Thursday's meeting between Atalanta and Napoli was meant to be a battle of the opposites. It involved a team that has been reaping rewards of using pragmatic ways in recent months and one of the most feared sides in Europe because of their ultra-attacking ways. Unsurprisingly Gian Piero Gasperini's men came out on top with a 2-0 victory.
La Dea's games always give one multiple talking points. But the win over the Partenopei was a reminder of Robin Gosens and the exceptional campaign that he's had for Atalanta. The German got a goal on the night, his 10th in all competitions, to cap off another impressive performance for the club. For many, he’s been as important as Papu Gomez for Atalanta this season.
In some ways, Gosens defines everything Atalanta are all about. Be the manner in which he was recruited, his rise to prominence and his approach to the game, the 25-year-old is a fair reflection of what La Dea stand for.
Gosens' time in Germany was hardly fruitful. After spending some years with the Rhede academy, he was off to the Netherlands to ply his trade with Vitesse, who gave him the platform to develop and then seek a move to Heracles Almelo in 2015.
But Gosens stayed at Heracles for a couple of seasons only. Even at that point, he was highly productive left-back who possessed a convincing attacking ability. Atalanta roped him in for a meagre £810k fee in 2017. The move suited their budget and the sort of signings La Dea were making at that point.
They had signed Gianluca Mancini and Hans Hateboer for small fees a year before and Gosens was a similar sort of signing. He offered immense potential to grow and there was a chance of earning big financial rewards too.
For Gosens, it was a step up to a team which had seen a full-back in Andrea Conti score eight times in the 2016-17 season. Gasperini was building a team that had a unique attacking identity. The basis of it was organised chaos and allowed the wing-backs a lot of freedom to attack. While Conti left for Vincenzo Montella's Milan, his performances had perhaps given Gosens an example to follow.
Fast forward to today, the German is seen as one of the best in his position by many football fans. There can be a debate against it because it is Gasperini’s unique system that tapped into his abilities and there’s a chance that he doesn’t perform as well in another system. But that is what football is about - systems and players’ suitability to tactics.
Gasperini’s system has transformed Atalanta, just like it has transformed Gosens. It just allows players to express themselves in the most expansive of ways. What Gosens benefits from is the ‘organised chaos’ of the operation. Whenever the German marauds forward, the central midfielder on that side - either Remo Freuler or Mario Pasalic - picks up an attacking position on the left side of the pitch. The centre-back on that side, usually Berat Djimsiti, pushes forward into the left channel to overload the flank.
In a situation like this, the wing-back is the most advanced attacking player, even though Gomez does drop into some spaces on the left as well. All of these players are often seen combining together regularly, allowing each other to contribute to attack on a consistent basis.
As unique as the system is, it just makes Atalanta and their players what they are today. Gosens has been a success story which might not have been possible without that ultra-attacking style. Like many of the players in there, he arrived at the club as someone that no one knew about. But over time, he’s become a household name in Italy.
While this season has seen him contribute to 16 goals in all competitions, his tally last season stood at only five in 36 appearances. Clearly, his suitability to the style has increased with time, leading to him picking up numbers that have never been seen before for a left wing-back.
The game at Bergamo on Thursday was another reminder of what he’s capable of on his day. Gosens doesn’t just score, he scores at crucial points as well. He has scored against Lazio, Inter, Juventus and in a must-win Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk. Whatever La Dea do this season in Serie A and Champions League, this 25-year-old German will be very important for them. He’s a success story Atalanta should be very proud of.
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