If you are an American fan of Italian football and are sick of telling your friends that no, they don’t all end 0-0, it’s not just defending and it is not – whatever that may actually mean – a farmer’s league, then we have some good news for you. For the first time ever on Sunday, a Serie A match will be shown live on one of the major U.S. broadcast television networks. Even better news, it’s going to be Fiorentina vs. Atalanta on ABC.
The powers that be really couldn’t have picked a better team to introduce itself to an American audience than Atalanta. They hail from the small town of Bergamo, in the same region as Milan, do not have anywhere near the financial clout of most top clubs even in Italy and are probably the most entertaining team in Serie A. They are on their way towards a third consecutive Champions League qualification, always getting past the group stage and last term being minutes away from reaching the semi-final before a late PSG comeback.
Atalanta are more than simply fun to watch because they’ve churned out 68 goals in 29 Serie A games this season, although that and their laissez-faire attitude to defending is one of the main reasons for their popularity. They are the dream for fans of the beautiful game who want to discuss tactics without seeming like those people who say 0-0 is the perfect score-line. If at times the Premier League or La Liga can seem a bit like a pile-on down the park, with everyone attacking more or less at random, then Serie A is more for the purists. This can, let’s be perfectly honest, be a bit dull for the casual watcher. Atalanta resolve that issue.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s approach is far more fast-moving than the usual tiki-taka, taking considerably more risks than an Antonio Conte or even a Pep Guardiola, and are wonderful for the neutral to enjoy. You can point out the wide overlaps, the quick one-two passing, the favourite wing-back to wing-back pass to the far post. You know, the Cliff Notes version of tactics.
Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata rarely disappoint, while if you are lucky, Josip Ilicic will be on one of his good days, when he can be one of the most purely talented players in the sport. On his bad days, Atalanta are basically down to 10 men and you remember why his career never quite flourished. You can discuss the names that are being linked with the biggest clubs in Europe, or will be by the summer. Plus you can show your friends Marten de Roon’s Twitter feed during any lulls in play, easily the most amusing player on social media.
Of course, this game is chosen also because Fiorentina are owned by Italian-American magnate Rocco Commisso. The Viola are iconic in their own way, with that unique all-purple kit, the hills around Florence in the background of the Stadio Franchi and the memories of Gabriel Batistuta or Manuel Rui Costa treading this hallowed turf.
Ideally, this would represent the other side to Serie A, namely seeing the elder statesmen of the game show they’ve still got the skills to make a difference. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fabio Quagliarella and here Franck Ribery. Unfortunately, Ribery is suspended and therefore won’t be making an appearance, unless you count whatever bizarre outfit he decides to wear in the stands this time. He’s not shy on the pitch, nor in his fashion choices.
The man to watch this time is Dusan Vlahovic, a young Serbian banging in the goals that may well keep Fiorentina out of the relegation zone. Already catching the eye of Manchester United and Milan, check him out before his name goes stratospheric. You can regale your non-Serie A following friends with tales of the constant management changes in Florence, the fact Gaetano Castrovilli is a trained ballroom dancer and list Erick Pulgar’s numerous tattoos.
Essentially, all of Serie A is on show in Fiorentina vs. Atalanta and we expect it to be a great advertisement for Calcio in America. Let it be the first of many to achieve the U.S. spotlight.