PRE-MATCH: ATALANTA VS JUVENTUS
Pitting together two contrasting clubs in search of silverware, Wednesday's Coppa Italia final sees serial winners Juventus take on ambitious Atalanta at the Mapei Stadium, Sassuolo.
Last year's losing finalists Juve will seek a record-extending 14th cup triumph to end their troubled season, while La Dea is just 90 minutes from realizing their dream of a first major trophy in almost 60 years.
Bringing a trophy back to Bergamo after a traumatic 18 months in the Lombardian city would not only prove a crowning moment for Gian Piero Gasperini's talented side but also confirm that they are made of the sternest stuff when on the big stage.
A reputation for free-flowing, high-scoring football has not yet translated into titles, with a runners-up finish in the league possible next weekend and a similar role as bridesmaids in the 2019 Coppa decider - which they lost to Lazio - ranking alongside some fine forays into Europe of late.
Achieving Champions League qualification for three years in a row is, nonetheless, a remarkable record for Gasperini and company; with La Dea guaranteeing their latest passage to Europe's top table in style at the weekend.
Following their frantic 4-3 win over Genoa, the second place Bergamaschi have sealed their top-four place by virtue of a superior head-to-head record against fellow cup contenders Juventus, who sit fifth - three points behind them heading into Sunday's final round.
Securing their seasonal goal with a round to spare, despite having such heavily financed clubs as Juve, Napoli, and Milan all closing in behind, bears testament to Atalanta's stellar form throughout 2021. In fact, the Nerazzurri have lost just one of their last 17 league outings - to new champions Inter - winning 13 of them in total, as goals have rained in from all quarters: 17 coming in their last five games.
Atalanta will therefore bring a confident and versatile squad to Emilia-Romagna for this season-defining cup final clash. Having already beaten Napoli 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals and seen off Lazio in the last eight, they are now one short step away from emulating the club's famed Coppa-winning side of 1963.
Following victory in a chaotic and controversial Derby d'Italia last Sunday, a dismal campaign by the high standards of Juventus will now draw to a close with several very different outcomes still possible.
Defeating Inter - the side that has just deposed them as Serie A champions - in a game featuring bizarre refereeing, a penalty save, two dismissals, and endless VAR checks - was one of the rare highlights of the Turin giants' underwhelming 2020-21 season.
In pursuit of a tenth consecutive Scudetto at the season's outset, the Bianconeri have suffered a series of humbling results under their former midfield maestro and must therefore rely on others' misfortunes to help them retain a Champions League place which had previously been a given.
Defensive deficiencies rank high among the charges laid at the feet of Pirlo's team this term, as they have now conceded at least once in each of their last 14 games in all competitions - last enduring a longer such run in 1955.
One of those concessions came in last month's 1-0 loss to their cup final opponents, following the clubs' 1-1 draw earlier this season - perhaps giving a slight psychological edge to an Atalanta outfit which has a weak historical record against them.