The usual expectations are no longer enough for Atalanta, as their first ever foray into the Champions League requires more star power than simply hanging on to their talents. Luis Muriel cost €18m plus bonuses to purchase from Sevilla following his six-month loan stint at Fiorentina, but how will he fit into Gian Piero Gasperini’s side?
The 28-year-old Colombian international was at first thought to be a replacement for fellow countryman Duvan Zapata, who was rumoured to be on the way out towards Napoli or Inter. Instead, the two Cafeteros have very different characteristics and could be alternatives just as well as forming an exciting partnership.
Duvan Zapata’s presence is the first positive sign of how Muriel will fit into an already exciting Atalanta side. Having known each other since the Under-20 level, Muriel said how important Duvan’s presence in the team was while speaking with the club’s YouTube channel.
“In attack, we linked up many times for Colombia. He’s a true friend. Having him in the team will be important, we can do very well together.”
As for the rest of the side, Muriel seemingly slots in perfectly. Already home to a blisteringly fast, clinical strike force, Muriel just adds to the danger Atalanta’s front-line poses to rival defences. Much like Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez, Muriel is slick on the ball and always looking to find his teammates on the counter-attack.
Often times we saw Gomez drop to receive the ball in midfield and burst forward to open up runs for both Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata. Introducing Muriel into this allows for a sort of transition between Papu and his strikers. This would allow Gomez to not waste as much energy, since he won’t have to make as many of those pacey runs forward from deep within Atalanta’s own half.
Like Gomez, Muriel will be able to weave in-between defenders and create opportunities for those around him, whilst also opening up chances for himself to find the net. However, Muriel comes to Atalanta as a big risk due to his recent knee injury sustained in the Copa America. Considering how essential pace is to Muriel’s game, any drop off in his sprinting ability would be extremely detrimental.
Muriel has been floating around various mid-table clubs for years now and never quite made the step up. His main issue has been a lack of consistency and even in six months at Fiorentina there were some fantastic performances and goals swiftly followed by 90 minutes spent punting balls into Row Z.
Perhaps having Duvan Zapata, Gomez and Ilicic there providing just as much attacking threat, Muriel won’t feel the need to always go for goal himself? Considering Atalanta’s playing style, the Colombian represents an excellent reinforcement for a team in their first ever Champions League campaign.