The dawn of a new campaign is always exciting for any football fan, but that is especially true when your team has resided in dreamland for the last two years. Consecutive third-placed finishes and a trip to the Champions League quarter-finals were unprecedented for Atalanta, but they seem well placed to follow up those historic feats with further success in 2020-21. Finishing in the top four and reaching the knockout stages in Europe’s premier cup competition should be the minimum aim. However, a tilt at domestic and continental glory is not out of the question.
As La Dea lack the financial might of an established elite club, they could have been forgiven for undertaking a fire sale of their top talent this summer. Yet, they have held onto all the key members of Gian Piero Gasperini’s juggernaut, with utility man Timothy Castagne the only notable departure.
Without breaking the bank, the Northerners have also reinforced smartly all over the pitch. Cristiano Piccini and Cristian Romero strengthen a rearguard that was the country’s fifth-best last time out, while rapid left wing-back Johan Mojica is the third Colombian on the books. Further forward, ex-PSV hit man Sam Lammers should provide crucial respite for Duván Zapata.
The most expensive signing was creative midfielder Aleksei Miranchuk, who arrived from Russian Premier League outfit Lokomotiv Moscow for €14.5m. The lanky 24-year old is an astute operator and is especially dangerous when cutting inside onto his wand-like left peg. He seems the perfect long-term replacement for Josip Ilicic, but the veteran Slovenian could ultimately prove to be the best off-season “purchase”.
After destroying defences up and down the peninsula for much of last season, Ilicic was on the periphery of proceedings post-restart before disappearing from view following the visit to Juventus on July 11. Personal problems caused the former Fiorentina and Palermo technician to miss out on the final six Serie A matches and the crunch tie against PSG. La Dea’s cruel elimination at the hands of the French champions could have played out very differently had the Balkan maestro been involved.
Ilicic will likely be brought back to competitive action slowly after returning to full training a few weeks ago, but Atalanta are experienced enough to make up for his absence. They are now accustomed to dealing with a crowded fixture list and are unlikely to slip up like they did early on in their maiden Champions League group stage adventure. Furthermore, they are well versed in Gasperini’s daring 3-4-1-2 system and should have no trouble recouping their high-octane brand of football from the first whistle.
That stability will be a boon to La Dea as they look to make up the five-point gap that separated them from Juventus last term. The Old Lady made a promising debut under new manager Andrea Pirlo, but it remains to be seen how the rookie tactician handles the pressure in Turin.
Meanwhile, Inter have bought well under Antonio Conte and promise to be serious contenders once again. Atalanta will be lying in wait if those two giants slip up, however, and a first-ever league title would represent the final step in this humble club’s rise from relegation candidates to the very top of Italian and European football.
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