For many Calcio fans, Atalanta have been the feel-good story of the last two seasons. The miracles that Gian Piero Gasperini and Giovanni Sartori have helped La Dea achieve has caught global attention. While they certainly deserve immense credit for their fearless approach to playing and their exceptional dealings in the market, this season could be crucial for Atalanta in many ways.
Currently in the last Champions League spot - three points ahead of Paulo Fonseca’s inconsistent Roma with a game in hand - La Dea look on course to finish the season in the top four again. It isn’t certain, of course, but this could mark the first time they finish in the top four for two consecutive seasons. It will help establish themselves as a real competitor rather than a club that made it there as a result of a mere great phase in history.
In some ways, this season has been better than the 2018-19 campaign. It has seen some immaculate results, such as their 5-0 win over struggling Milan, the 7-1 trouncing of Udinese and the 7-0 embarrassment to Torino that literally made some Toro players cry. It has been much more consistent than last season, when they had won just a single game in the first eight outings but lost none after March 2019.
The current campaign has seen them come up with an XG per 90 minutes of 2.46, an improvement from last season’s tally of 1.78. Gasperini’s system aims to create high-value chances from central areas and in that sense, they have improved in the 2019-20 season.
There was a point in the campaign when the Bergamo side had scored at least two goals in every Serie A game and while that didn’t last too long, the brilliant 2-1 win over Roma was crucial to them making a huge leap into the top four. It is key to note that Gasperini’s men have won both their games against the Giallorossi this season, scoring twice each time, giving them that potentially important head-to-head advantage.
Sweeping into the Champions League quarter-finals is another success story in its own, because now there will be a Final Eight knockout tournament, Atalanta’s unpredictability and all-attack approach could yet pay off. But the progress that Atalanta have made this season deserves more of a spotlight from fans, considering Duvan Zapata was out injured for a good part of the campaign. Josip Ilicic has arguably been the best player in Serie A, contributing to 20 goals in 21 appearances.
It will also depend on those below them. Roma have had a good season, but injury issues have led to inconsistency and Fonseca having to juggle things up quickly, so this has meant a lack of stability in the first-team and in the midfield, especially.
While Napoli did win the Coppa Italia and are in a period of resurgence under Rino Gattuso, there’s a huge nine-point gulf between them and Atalanta. Those below the Partenopei are Ivan Juric’s Verona and Stefano Pioli’s Milan. But the gap is 10 and 12 points respectively and it could be impossible for them to catch Atalanta.
There are people talking about whether Gasperini’s men can break into the top three or not, considering Inter’s mini-slump in 2020. The compacted fixture list does make for some very intriguing scenarios.
La Dea are yet to play Juventus, Lazio and Inter during the run-in. The fact that Atalanta have picked up the most points from losing positions this season could be key to these games, as the top three haven’t exactly been exceptional at maintaining leads. Inter, specifically, have been leading 22 times in the season, but they have won only 16. Only Cagliari and Brescia have a worse winning percentage in this regard.
What is even more interesting is that Atalanta’s last game of the season is in Bergamo against Antonio Conte’s men. Things can change a lot by then, but there is a big chance that both these teams are fighting for position at the top. Inter will have the advantage of having already faced Lazio and Juve, but the manner in which they’ve dropped points to Lecce, Cagliari and Fiorentina suggests that they are prone to lapses in concentration and the over-reliance on Plan A.
If Atalanta can build up a head of steam, preparing not just for a dramatic end to the Serie A season, but also Champions League knockout football in August, there’s no reason why Gasperini can’t achieve another Calcio miracle.