The adventure continues. If last season’s quite astonishing fourth place finish hadn’t sunk in, the scale of the achievement will have come to life when Gian Piero Gasperini’s side ruthlessly took apart big-spending Everton.
In a group where Lyon are considered the favourites to qualify, both La Dea and the Toffees knew they were tussling to get a head start, and one team certainly laid down a dominant marker in what was a one-sided contest which proved Atalanta can be a real force in the Europa League.
The players will understandably get the credit, but the orchestrator Gasperini warrants every bit of praise coming his way. Football’s sacking culture has descended beyond all rationality and in an era where a Coach is under immense pressure if he doesn’t pick up an instant result, the Italian could have quite easily found himself out a job having lost four of his first five matches in charge, but President Antonio Percassi behaved in a measured manner, and this loyalty has been repaid immeasurably. Other boards should take note.
The damage was done in the first half and La Dea could not have wished for a meeker opponent. Everton were slow and ponderous, and lacked any real imagination. Ronald Koeman’s men came in to the clash off the back of consecutive defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Spurs, and the manner in which the Orobici dismissed his side was not too dissimilar.
The difference between the Group E rivals is glaringly obvious. While Gasperini may have lost his star men to giants Milan and Inter, Koeman spent a handsome £150m in the summer, yet it was Atalanta who resembled a real team. Much like last year’s momentous Serie A campaign, La Dea were hungrier, stronger and a constant threat at set-pieces.
Quite simply, last year’s surprise package did not allow the Blues to play and if the likes of Wayne Rooney and record signing Gylfi Sigurdsson thought they could forget their domestic troubles, they were sadly mistaken.
The inexperienced Dominic Calvert-Lewin ploughed a lone furrow and will have looked on in envy at the opposing end of the pitch, as Andrea Petagna caused chaos throughout, all while bringing his teammates in to play. The pace and fluidity on display would have been a welcome sight for the avid calcio fan.
The Orobici were more aggressive and looked at complete ease on the European stage, something which should resonate with Gasperini, as his spell at Inter in 2011 essentially ended following a defeat in the Champions League. The Italian has come full circle and deserves another opportunity to pit his wits against sides on the continent.
Atalanta now sit in the driving seat. Sure, the Nerazzurri will face far sterner tests in Europe this season, but many of the sides in the tournament are of a similar standing, and there won’t be many who will want to face Gasperini’s dark horses.