While their initial impact with the Champions League has been rough, Atalanta are still very much in the hunt for a return to Europe's most prestigious competition for next year.
Currently, the Bergamaschi are just a couple points off fourth, tied with Roma. They have struggled in recent games, with just a single victory achieved in their last five encounters, including a shock home loss to surprise package Cagliari. However, on a positive note, they have continued their free-scoring form and, just as they were last year, they are the leading scorers in Serie A with 30 strikes.
When the club qualified for the competition, there was a fear among a number in Calcio circles that their team would be ripped apart by the bigger clubs, looking to take advantage of the Orobici's limited resources. That failed to materialise, as they not only held on to their top talent, but added to it, with the likes of Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. Both players have already made an immediate impact at the new Gewiss Stadium.
Muriel has already amassed eight goals to his name, while Malinovskyi has impressed so much, that the Ukrainian has attracted massive interest from clubs around Europe. The club's sporting director Giovanni Sartori continues to keep making the most of the resources at his disposal.
The season is currently intriguingly poised, especially as those top four spots are concerned. It can be safe to say that right now Juventus and Inter are above the rest of the league, as the Derby d'Italia rivals are neck and neck in the fight for the Scudetto, with the chasing pack a fair distance away and all jammed together.
There are only 12 points separating Atalanta in fourth and Bologna in 15th, so they need to be wary of their position in the table even at this relatively early stage of the season. A few poor results here or there could severely affect their Champions League ambitions. Given their recent poor form, they need to not only "play our style of football," as coach Gian Piero Gasperini continues to promote, but find a way to get results.
An aspect that can be pointed to for their drop in form is the absence of star striker Duvan Zapata. The Colombian started off the season like a freight train, racking up six goals in the first seven Serie A matches, but suffered a thigh injury while on duty with his nation in a friendly versus Chile. There is good news, as the 28-year old is expected to be back this weekend and they will need him as well.
Atalanta host defending champions Juventus to open the round and there can be no better signal of intent that their top four charge is well and truly on than defeating the Bianconeri. Last year, they played La Vecchia Signora three times and went unbeaten, as they drew both games in the league, while knocking them out in the Coppa Italia with a commanding 3-0 win, making it all the way to the final for the first time since 1996.
Following that clash this coming Saturday, they have a relatively manageable series of games to end 2019, with Brescia, Verona, Bologna and Milan on the horizon. All of these matches are very winnable for the club who hail from the city of well know composer Gaetano Donizetti. They will be looking to create their own tune, while trying to create history again for the Nerazzurri.
The important aspect of this version of Atalanta, which is something a lot of ‘bigger clubs’ can learn from, is that they have an identity. Gasp has his team playing in a fluid and free-flowing 3-4-1-2 system that always harasses the opponents with pressing, quick passing and movement off the ball. This style of play is still somewhat foreign to many teams in Italian football and no matter what player is placed in any particular position, the identity remains the same.
It won't be easy and there are many teams gunning for what Atalanta achieved last year, but given their transfer strategy, stability gained through several years of growth and improvement, there is no reason why they can't make the top four again.