Atalanta emerging as serious title contender
MILAN (AP) — The Serie A season might be still in the early stages but the race is shaping up as one of the most exciting in recent years.
Atalanta recovered from Tuesday's 5-1 defeat at Manchester City in the Champions League to thrash Udinese 7-1 on Sunday.
Gian Piero Gasperini's side moved three points behind Serie A leader and eight-time defending champion Juventus, and two behind Inter.
However, with only nine rounds played, the Atalanta coach is keeping his feet on the ground.
"I'll start to look at the table after the 14th match or the 15th," Gasperini said. "We can't win it, only Juventus can lose it, then there is Inter and Napoli apart from other teams which have good chances.
Atalanta has by far the best attack in the league having scored 28 goals, eight more than any other team. And Sunday's goalfest came against the meanest defense, with Udinese having only conceded six goals in its previous eight matches.
Luis Muriel grabbed a hat trick against his former club. Josip Ilicic scored two and was only denied a hat trick of his own by the crossbar.
"Our strength up front allows us to deal with some mistakes at the back, but if we also had the best defense we would be at the top of the table," Gasperini said.
Atalanta has long been known for producing great players, having helped to launch the careers of the likes of Roberto Donadoni, Christian Vieri, and Filippo Inzaghi.
And another potential star has emerged from its youth ranks as 17-year-old substitute Amad Traoré scored six minutes into his debut.
He became the first player born in the year 2002 to score a Serie A goal.
"Scoring on his debut is a great sign. He has talent but I don't think youngsters like him are already ready for the Champions League," Gasperini said. "There's still a gap between the youth league and Serie A. They need to take it step by step."
Traoré would have been the first player born in 2002 to play in Italy's top flight had Inter forward Sebastiano Esposito not made his Serie A debut the previous day, in the Nerazzurri's 2-2 draw against Parma.
Esposito almost scored a stoppage-time winner but volleyed narrowly wide of the right post.
It was another impressive performance from the 17-year-old, who also shined midweek in the 2-0 Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund.
Esposito won a penalty and consistently troubled the Dortmund defense. He appeared unfazed at making his Champions League debut despite having only previously played 17 minutes for Inter's first team.
While Traoré and Esposito were unknowns, there has long been hype around another teenager: Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali.
The 19-year-old has even been compared to Andrea Pirlo.
Tonali scored his first Serie A goal on Saturday and it was worth the wait. He curled a free kick into the top far corner from near the left touchline. He did later confess he had intended it as a cross.
Unfortunately it counted for little as Brescia lost 3-1 at Genoa.