AC Milan loses 3-0 to Atalanta but leads at halfway mark

ROME (AP) – After a week marked by the highly anticipated arrivals of former Juventus forward Mario Mandžukić and Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori, AC Milan was expected to celebrate winning Serie A’s halfway title in style.

Instead, the Rossoneri were handed a humbling 3-0 defeat at home by Atalanta on Saturday and saw their lead over city rival Inter Milan trimmed to two points.

The only consolation was that Milan still secured the “Winter title” — which seven times out of 10 leads to the actual Italian league championship.

Cristian Romero, Josip Iličić and Duván Zapata scored for Atalanta – the surprise Champions League quarterfinalist last season.

It was Milan’s second defeat of the season but also the second in four matches, having been beaten 3-1 by nine-time defending champion Juventus earlier this month, also at home.

“It’s a very competitive league. We know it’s difficult. But we are up there at the top and we want to have our say,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said.

Atalanta players celebrate at the end of a Serie A football match at the Milan San Siro Stadium, Italy. PHOTO: AP

“Losses to Juventus and Atalanta are nothing to be ashamed of,” Pioli added. “It’s competitive when you reach this level. We will analyse the defeat, try to see where we can improve and focus on the next match.”

Inter drew 0-0 at Udinese under driving rain.

Third-place Roma, which trails Milan by six points, gained some relief after a rough spell with a 4-3 win over visiting Spezia.

Atalanta is fourth, one point behind Roma. “This is one of our best performances since I’ve been here,” said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini. “We achieved it against the Serie A leaders, the winter champions, but we were superior in every way this evening and that is immensely satisfying.”

Atalanta took control midway through the first half with a diving header from Romero.

A bloodied Iličić then converted a penalty shortly after the break after getting elbowed in the face by Franck Kessié.

Mandžukić came on in the second half and nearly scored immediately, forcing a save from close range from Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.

But Milan produced little more and Zapata then hit the post before he finished off a counterattack in the 77th to seal it.

Atalanta has been hard to beat since getting routed 5-0 at home by Liverpool in the Champions League in November.

“After the game with Liverpool, which was horrible conceding five goals at home, we learned and made the changes we needed to,” Gasperini said. “We press the opponents much more — which allows us to protect the defence — and we’ve been doing that for several weeks now.”

In Udine, Inter coach Antonio Conte was sent off in added time for protesting.

Lorenzo Pellegrini scored the winner for Roma two minutes into stoppage time after former Giallorossi winger Daniele Verde had equalised for Spezia in the 90th.

Borja Mayoral scored twice and Rick Karsdorp also found the target for the Giallorossi, who were without captain Edin Džeko due to an apparent feud with coach Paulo Fonseca.

Roma was beaten 3-0 by Lazio in last week’s league derby and then lost 4-2 to Spezia in the Italian Cup on Tuesday. On Friday, the Cup defeat result was changed to a 3-0 loss by the league judge due to an impermissible sixth substitution that Roma used.