Napoli wasted good first half chances, but Atalanta took control for a 2-1 victory that sends them through to the Coppa Italia Semi-Final.
The winners of tonight’s clash will go on to face either Juventus or Torino in the two-legged semi in January and February. Atalanta won the Coppa Italia only once, in 1963, while they reached the Final in 1987 and 1996.
The Partenopei rotated the squad with Marko Rog, Luigi Sepe, Adam Ounas and Amadou Diawara given starts, while Gian Piero Gasperini looked to Bryan Cristante, Andreas Cornelius and Papu Gomez.
Last season, Atalanta were the only side to beat Napoli both home and away in Serie A, but when they last met here in August, it was a 3-1 Azzurri success. Most famously, these teams met in the 1987 Coppa Italia Final, which saw Napoli retain the trophy.
Jose Callejon was changing places with Ounas in the False 9 role and his angled drive was fingertipped just past the far post by Etrit Berisha, then Mattia Caldara’s crucial block charged down Rog’s effort.
Marek Hamsik’s inspired ball over the top released Callejon, but he couldn’t get it under control, then the pair combined with great one-touch football to send Ounas through and he blasted over.
Ounas almost scored with a sensational overhead kick from Hamsik’s chipped pass, sending it not far wide, then his cross found Zielinski at the far post, but the touch was too weak to beat Berisha from point-blank range.
Atalanta’s first real chance came on 31 minutes, Sepe fingertipping a looping Papu Gomez header out from under the crossbar. Straight after the restart, Vlad Chiriches had to time his sliding tackle on Gomez perfectly in the box.
It was a warning, as Atalanta broke the deadlock moments later. Cornelius knocked down a Gomez cross and Timothy Castagne was quickest to react from five yards, firing into the roof of the net.
Sarri immediately introduced big guns Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, as a Rog snapshot was deflected wide, but Cornelius tested Sepe from distance and Atalanta rarely looked shaken.
In fact, Vlad Chiriches lost his footing and Papu Gomez too full advantage, blasting into the far top corner from the tightest of angles under pressure from Kalidou Koulibaly.
Just as many were assuming that was game over, Napoli got one back, as Insigne’s cross to the back post sailed over Berisha and found Mertens for a downward header. That was the Belgian’s first goal in all competition since November 21 against Shakhtar Donetsk.
There were six minutes plus stoppages remaining, but Atalanta held firm to reach an unexpected semi-final.
Napoli 1-2 Atalanta
Castagne 50 (A), Gomez 81 (A), Mertens 84 (N)
Napoli: Sepe; Hysaj, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Rog, Diawara, Hamsik (Insigne 56); Callejon (Mertens 56), Ounas (Allan 72), Zielinski
Atalanta: Berisha; Toloi, Caldara, Palomino; Castagne, De Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Cristante (Ilicic 75); Cornelius (Petagna 82), Gomez (Haas 89)