To be sure of the Winter Champion crown, the Rossoneri needed a point, but while Theo Hernandez, Ante Rebic, and Rade Krunic returned from COVID, Alessio Romagnoli and Alexis Saelemaekers were suspended, injuring Ismael Bennacer and Matteo Gabbia with Hakan Calhanoglu still unwell.
New signings were on the bench with Mario Mandzukic and Fikayo Tomori, with Soualiho Meite giving his first start in a more advanced position of trequartista.
La Dea has been unbeaten at San Siro since January 2014, and as Papu Gomez and Cristiano Piccini are on their way out, the only injury was Mario Pasalic.
From back-to-back sketches of Genoa and Udinese, they came into this fixture. It was a rather aggressive start from the hosts, Rafael Leao with Theo Hernandez’s solo run, who rolled across only for Berat Djimsiti from six yards to block Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Franck Kessie deflected Hans Hateboer’s counter-attack into the side-netting, then he had a cross-shot sting at the near post of Gianluigi Donnarumma’s gloves.
When he could have done better, Josip Ilicic then scuffed a couple of chances wide, including one where he hit a fresh-air shot when sent clear.
The target had come and it came from a corner that was taken short, the cross of Robin Gosens whipped in for Cristian Romero to shrug off Pierre Kalulu, the diving header squirming from a near range between the legs of Donnarumma.
The first half was dominated by La Dea and Ilicic’s free-kick burst through the wall to sting the gloves of Donnarumma.
Yet Milan was expected to equalize on a half-time stroke, a long free-kick by Sandro Tonali going past everyone to find Ibrahimovic at the back post, somehow prodding wide with his knee.
It was unfortunate for Duvan Zapata not to get the third Atalanta goal, as he deflected a corner to the inside of the far post.
It was coming, and Duvan Zapata ran to a Romero slide-rule pass, allowing time and space to pick up his position, shooting at the back stick past Donnarumma.
The woodwork was skimmed by Brahim Diaz in the stops, but the good news came from Udine, where Inter was kept 0-0.