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Thursday July 9 2020
Are Atalanta the best team in Europe?

There are many ways to define what makes the 'best' team, but Kaustubh Pandey argues Atalanta fit quite a few of them right now in both Italy and Europe.

The Atalanta juggernaut continues to plough on with some style. Last night’s 2-0 win over Sampdoria was hardly surprising, but it said a lot about La Dea’s ability to perform under pressure. As they plodded on towards the last 15 minutes against Claudio Ranieri’s men, the goal came from a source that might seem unlikely for others, but isn’t as unlikely for Atalanta – defender Rafael Toloi.

It was a reflection of the Bergamo club’s unique style, where everyone likes to get in on the goal-scoring action. Luis Muriel got the second goal to settle the tie, confirming his status as Serie A’s premier supersub. As a result, Atalanta are third in the Serie A table and find themselves only two points behind second-placed Lazio, but that’s not the most intriguing thing that pops out at you from the fixture list. If they beat Juventus on Saturday, the Bergamo boys will be within six points of the leaders.

Whether they can really mount a late Scudetto charge remains to be seen. But Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are unbeaten in 11 Serie A games, including nine victories on the bounce. That is the best winning streak in the league currently and they haven’t lost since SPAL beat them back in late January. During this period, they have scored as many as 35 goals, leading many to ask if La Dea really are the best team in Europe right now or not.

The word ‘best’ is a pretty versatile one in football, as it can mean many different things. To a football romantic though, ‘best team in Europe’ could refer to a side that plays very good football and scores buckets of goals. La Dea suit that tag in many ways. Rather, they define it.

Fans are bound to disagree and that is pretty natural in an era that is dominated by Twitter and opinions. A case can be made for Bayern Munich as well. But it has become a bit easy to forget that Atalanta have achieved all of this with very limited resources. They’ve brought forward this unique tactical approach and have gone a long way in changing people’s perception of Calcio.

Gasperini has introduced a style that is revolutionary for not just Italian football, but for the sport as a whole. There is pressing involved and this idea of being ruthless in attack as well. When the centre-backs and wing-backs bomb forward, a midfielder drops deeper and that is the sort of tactical fluidity and cohesiveness which defines Atalanta. It is all made possible thanks to astonishing fitness levels, so Gasp’s staff deserve much of the credit too, especially for their form since the lockdown.

In England, Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United side does rely on over-lapping centre-backs, but the system can be a bit pragmatic, unlike Atalanta’s version. Clubs in Germany have been using dynamic systems which have versatile players in flexible formations. They too rely on high-pressing, like La Dea. But another crucial thing about Atalanta’s system is how they lay immense emphasis on positional overloads. While that is a case of them taking a leaf out of Pep Guardiola’s book, it is a combination of all the other three mentioned above as well.

They’re not just style, though, as proven by the more pragmatic approach over the last two rounds. Back-to-back clean sheets kept against Cagliari and Sampdoria, while relying on set plays to batter down resilient defences. It was a Muriel penalty in Sardinia, while Toloi’s header and the Muriel strike both came off the back of corners. These are not naïve players running into the breach with no protection, they are attacking wisely and effectively. Just as in the Champions League after three opening group stage defeats, Atalanta learned, adapted and improved, giving themselves different ways of winning games.

Clearly, the system is working and has reaped the rewards over the last two years. It has helped them progress in a rather dramatic manner. They are capable of winning multiple games in a row. They did that last season as well and managed to secure Champions League football, despite having started the campaign in a pretty average manner.

In many ways, Atalanta are a football romantic’s favourite toy. Not everyone who loves the game is a romantic, of course. But for a club that has come a long way since earning promotion from Serie B, becoming the best in the world for a football romantic is a massive achievement in itself. This is no one-off Leicester City fairy-tale either, because the Bergamo club is consistently positioning itself in the top four of Italian football and growing all the time.

No one knows if Atalanta can win the Champions League or Scudetto, but for how far Atalanta have come by performing consistently in a revolutionary system, they deserve some kind of recognition.

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Have your say...
Best team in Europe is an over exaggeration. Are they contenders to win the CL? I'd say yes after having watched them outplay Juve. But they have to maintain this level of physicality, technique and quality and that's the difference between a 1 trick pony and real title contenders. I say this also without really having seen MC, Bayern or Liverpool play this year. But from what I've seen so far they have just as good a chance as anyone.
on the 12th July, 2020 at 5:47pm
Atalanta may well be the best team in Europe, at least in terms of what they are achieving on the field in relation to their financial resources.
They have been drawn against PSG in the Champions league. This is surely a classic case of David vs Goliath.
For all the hundreds of millions PSG have spent, I think they will struggle getting past Gian Piero Gasperini’s men.

Just might be a Bayern v Atalanta final
on the 10th July, 2020 at 6:22pm
@chris Gill

seems a bit over the top mate.
on the 10th July, 2020 at 11:55am
Please do not underestimate Bundesliga, runners-up RB Leipzig occurred in UEFA CL to be above Serie A runners-up FC Napoli (both having VERY similar fresh style when under Sarri and Hasenhüttl respectively).
Whatever you say or write Napoli is far above Atalanta but this unfortunate season (they have one man downing them: ADL).
I await Rangnick in Milan bringing some freshness for Serie A, if only is allowed to do so.
on the 10th July, 2020 at 9:58am
next Sunday, Juve surely will liquidate them, not by spectacular way but effective mean
on the 10th July, 2020 at 7:07am
Sell their 2-3 players next season, Gasperini retiring, and they will be themselves again. The same like chievo couple season ago, or cagliari, or Udinese in spalletti's era. They have their moments, but they are still mid-low team.
on the 10th July, 2020 at 5:48am
I have never commented here before, I doubt I ever will again. Actually I may not bother ever returning.

The title got my attention, and established appropriately low expectations, but Kaustubh Pandey, you have outdone yourself. This is some of the most pathetic, ridiculous attempted writing I have ever encountered on the subject of football.

An entirely and irredeemably flawed premise. No meaningful substantiation. Stop. You are incompetent for task.

Truly pathetic.
on the 9th July, 2020 at 10:03pm
Definitely one of the best teams in Europe this season... to be the best they need to win a trophy / trophies to back it up. Bayern, Juve, Man City are above as it stands. They are above the other German sides mentioned. Hopefully they can keep it consistent, at the moment they remind me of Ajax from last season but obviously they still have a chance to win the CL with the style of play and form they are on they could, so lets see. No one could argue with them becoming the best then.
on the 9th July, 2020 at 8:15pm
Usually I'd agree but I don't want to heap 2 much praise n expectation on them n tempt fate with Juve n the CL coming up. It's safe to say they're 1 of the best 'clubs' though. In terms of growth,how they're run,their youth system n their consistently brilliant but evolving style, despite losing some 'star' names! I saw a video called Festa' D'Atalanta or something where the club puts on a nights performance for 70,000 fans in Bergamo, running over Brescia-coloured cars in tanks n such. Fun club
on the 9th July, 2020 at 6:23pm
Atalanta they will never be JUVENTUS LEVEL in terms of trophies won etc but they can NOW start winning trophies like Scudetto Coppa Italia etc. They must not sell players and invest more then they can challenge for scudetto. If they beat Juventus they are back in title race and maybe can win it .
on the 9th July, 2020 at 4:52pm
Hearing someone compare Atalanta with Eintrach, or Leipzig is somewhat ridiculous & most of all, a comment by someone who didn't understand the crucial points in this article! Compare them with the 1st, they aren't one season miracle which afterwards achieves nothing in UCL! With the 2nd, they aren't a team build with millions invested by someone! No! Atalanta is the same team, that has quite a unique approach to success in this modern times of The rule of billions! Plus, their style is superb
on the 9th July, 2020 at 3:08pm
As Bundesliga watcher I say Atalanta are at the level of Eintracht Frankfurt (when under Kovac), Hoffenheim (when under Nagelsmann) or RB Leipzig (when under Hasenhüttl). That means a lot.
on the 9th July, 2020 at 1:47pm
With the improvement in the stadium they will become a more attractive destination for players so it will be player recruitment and the continued development of youngsters that determines whether or not Atalanta have a sustained period in the top 4. Leicester sold Kante and Mahrez and took a season or 2 to rebuild but now they're back challenging for the top 4. Atalanta appear to be on the right path but in the long run, ultimately money talks
on the 9th July, 2020 at 1:14pm
Atalanta have done brilliantly the last couple of seasons, back to back champions league qualification is huge for a club the size of Atalanta and they've done Italy proud in this seasons competition. As with Leicester though, what will truly test in which direction the club is going will be when their best players are stripped from them and the likes of Gomez and Ilicic retire.
on the 9th July, 2020 at 1:11pm
They sure aren't the best, that's why they are so many points behind Juventus. They can beat any team on any given night though, so they have a shot at winning the CL.
on the 9th July, 2020 at 12:52pm

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