It only took eight games and a measly six points for Atalanta to completely flip the aims of their season.
After their 1-0 loss to Sampdoria before the international break – their sixth straigh game without a win – Coach Gian Piero Gasperini insisted needed to focus on “picking up some points and staying away from the danger zone."
At first they had targeted another run in the Europa League, perhaps a European spot in Serie A and maybe even a chance at bettering their semi-final place in the Coppa Italia.
By all accounts, that seemed where they destined to be. They thrashed Sarajevo 8-0 away on their way to the Europa League play-offs and beat Frosinone 4-0 on the opening weekend of Serie A. They even scrapped for a 3-3 draw at Roma with their B side. Then it all started to fall apart in the Europa League.
Against Copenhagen in the play-offs, they had close to 50 shots over the two legs and didn’t score once. That started to become a theme. In close to two months, save for a last gasp 2-2 draw at Milan the Orobici haven't scored. They've drawn blanks against SPAL, Torino, Fiorentina and the pressure is mounting on Atalanta, who find themselves just a point above the relegation zone.
Any inquires on why things have gone wrong don’t have to stray too far from their strike force. The aforementioned lack of goals is a departure for last season, where they were the sixth best side in front of goal.
Gasperini admitted Alejandro Gomez is like their Cristiano Ronaldo, and for the most part when he gets going so do Atalanta. He’s their top goal scorer this year with five, but cannot do it alone.
Last season when things dried up he could rely on the contributions of Bryan Cristante and Josip Ilicic.
Cristante up and left for Roma in a €20 million deal and took his 12 goals from last season with him, while Ilicic had been hospitalised with an infection, making only four appearances off the bench.
So the burden falls to their replacements. No sooner had Sampdoria ponied up on their obligation to by Colombian striker Duvan Zapata did they ship him out to Atalanta on a two-year loan. In eight league games he is yet to score.
Similarly, 19-year-old Musa Barrow has shown promise but is also yet to get going in the league, but Emiliano Rigoni has scored some crucial goals since his loan move from Zenit.
Both in attack and defence they have been weakened, as Mattia Caldara and Leonardo Spinazzola played 57 league games between them last season, but both returned to Juventus after loan spells.
Gasperini begged for more signings in the wake of the departures and European commitments. But even without the blockbuster signings, the side should be fit and firing at this stage.
Their season began on July 26, nearly a month before Serie A began, and with the Europa League games they should be in the groove by this stage of the season. Their exit from Europe should only further improve their chances of league success.
Coming to the end of a two-week international break, fans will hope things have been figured out. Gasperini has endured tough starts before. In his first season in Bergamo, he lost four of his first five games before going nine unbeaten and finishing fourth. To say he, one of Atalanta’s best Coaches in recent history cannot turn things around would be close to blasphemy. I’m sure Gasperini knows a little about that.