Atalanta BC followed two of their best results this season with a couple of damp squibs in the past week, so prepare for the visit of struggling draw specialists Torino on Saturday determined to claim maximum points.
While La Dea are theoretically still in contention on three fronts, the visitors' only remaining aim for the rest of the campaign is to steer clear of the trapdoor to Serie B.
In the past few days, a 3-1 home defeat to Lazio and subsequent goalless draw in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg against Napoli has served to take the edge off a rousing start to the calendar year by Atalanta.
Gian Piero Gasperini's entertaining outfit were stopped in their tracks by cup quarter-final victims Lazio, who gained revenge for their Coppa Italia defeat by inflicting Atalanta's first Serie A loss of 2021. A classic counter-attacking display saw the Biancocelesti back to their pre-lockdown best, as the Bergamaschi fully deserved to taste defeat at the Gewiss Stadium.
Then, in midweek, the Nerazzurri were held by a Napoli side who had switched to a back three for the occasion - specifically to constrain Gasperini's attacking ambitions.
For the visit of Torino, squad rotation will be necessary, with next Wednesday's second leg against the Partenopei in mind. The two clubs meet again in Serie A some days later, with Atalanta then going on to face fallen giants Real Madrid in the last-16 of the Champions League - an improbably glamorous tie for such a modest club to even imagine just a few years ago.
Having slipped to seventh in the tightly-packed top half of the standings, La Dea must remain focused on more prosaic league matters on Saturday afternoon.
Selection up front has become something of an unfolding intrigue each time Gasperini hands in his team sheet, as Duvan Zapata - whose next goal will be his 50th for the club in Serie A - is in direct competition with 'supersub' compatriot Luis Muriel, who has registered 11 goals to Zapata's nine despite being offered significantly less playing time.
Now that Zapata has found the target just once in the past four matches after his hot streak started to cool, Muriel has a growing claim on the single centre-forward spot, alongside support striker Josip Ilicic (whose three goals and five assists have all come recently) in the Atalanta attack.
Still unbeaten under new boss Davide Nicola, Torino have drawn their last three Serie A games and seven of their last nine in all competitons.
The boyhood Toro fan oversaw a pair of recent score draws with bottom-half rivals Benevento and Fiorentina - both of whom are faring better than Torino so far - and has steadied the ship after a disastrous conclusion to Marco Giampaolo's doomed reign.
Their problems have been hiding in plain sight throughout an abject campaign, as Torino have lost the most points from leading situations in the top flight this season, a remarkable 23 in total. Incidentally, no side has lost fewer than this week's opponents Atalanta - just two, level with league leaders Milan.
Tellingly, the Granata have also conceded the most goals in the final 30 minutes of Serie A games this season (21), in contrast to Atalanta's tally in the same period, of seven.
The stark chasm between the teams' recent fortunes was most harshly highlighted in this fixture last season, as Atalanta's 7-0 destruction of Torino in January 2020 was not only their largest win in Serie A, but also equalled the Turin club's worst-ever defeat at the elite level.
To avoid further humiliation and preserve the Granata's Serie A status, top scorer Andrea Belotti will be expected to start delivering on Saturday. The prolific goal-poacher returned to the scoresheet following a seven-game absence against Fiorentina - who were down to nine men at that late stage of the sides' 1-1 draw - and must aim to recapture his early-season consistency heading into the spring.
The only player to have scored at least four right-footed and four left-footed goals in Serie A this season, the talented front man has a heavy burden to bear - but Atalanta's defensive line is far from unbreachable.
Atalanta BC Serie A form: WWDDWL
Atalanta BC form (all competitions): WDDWWL
Torino Serie A form: WDLDDD
Torino form (all competitions): DLDDDD
Last week Atalanta midfielder Mario Pasalic celebrated his return with a goal after nearly two months out injured and could earn a start on Saturday, as coach Gian Piero Gasperini is set to rotate his resources ahead of upcoming cup commitments.
Wing-back Robin Gosens and central defender Jose Luis Palomino are back from suspension, but Hans Hateboer (foot) and Bosko Sutalo (ankle) are unlikely to be fit to face Torino. Cristian Romero has returned after a negative COVID-19 test and featured in midweek, so could join Palomino and Rafael Toloi in the back three.
Luis Muriel partnered Duvan Zapata up front against Lazio, but will most likely step down for Josip Ilicic to return to the first XI.
Torino new-boy Rolando Mandragora could make his debut after a deadline day move from Udinese, but fellow January recruit Antonio Sanabria will wait a little longer, as the striker has an outstanding suspension and in any case tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival.
Otherwise, Davide Nicola has a full hand to choose from and should opt for continuity by teaming Andrea Belotti with Simone Zaza up front. Armando Izzo's return to join Lyanco and Bremer in defence - replacing young Alessandro Buongiorno - could be Torino's only change.
Atalanta BC possible starting lineup:
Gollini; Toloi, Romero, Palomino; Maehle, De Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Pessina, Ilicic; Zapata
Torino possible starting lineup:
Sirigu; Izzo, Bremer, Lyanco; Singo, Mandragora, Rincon, Linetty, Ansaldi; Zaza, Belotti
We say: Atalanta BC 2-1 Torino
An appealing battle of the wing-backs - with any one of Atalanta's rotating cast of talented wide men coming toe-to-toe with Torino's Wilfried Singo and Cristian Ansaldi - could be a highlight in this clash of two sides battling at opposite ends of the table.
The hosts' greater attacking options should decide things in their favour, but not before a hard-fought tussle with a Toro team desperate to end their winless streak.