2016-17 review

Serie A Pts P W D L F A
4th 72 38 21 9 8 62 41

Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: 8 / Top scorer: Alejandro Gomez (16) / Europe: N/A

Gian Piero Gasperini led the Bergamo club to their first appearance in European competition in 26 years, writes David Baleno.

Amazing Atalanta

After finishing 13th last season and at one stage looking as if the Coach would be sacked, Gian Piero Gasperini turned this young Atalanta side into an absolute revelation. Pipping Lazio to fourth place in the final round, it’s their best ever Serie A finish.

Captain Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez was the catalyst throughout the season, the 29-year-old playing in 37 games for La Dea. His involvement in nearly 30 goals for the Bergamo club allowed them to compete on even playing fields with all their opponents.

Considering their slow start to the season, Gasperini and his players deserve special credit. Their campaign began with losses in four of the first five games, and it looked inevitable the Coach would be sacked. The club backed him and Atalanta put together a string of nine unbeaten matches.

Victories over Napoli, Inter, and Roma showed just how dangerous the Nerazzurri could be. By the middle of the season, Gasperini had lifted his team to sixth place, and they began to show consistency throughout Italy. Franck Kessie was the linchpin in the midfield, his athleticism and technical ability eventually attracting attention from across Europe. They even survived selling midfielder Roberto Gagliardini to Inter for over €25m in January.

In defence, Atalanta relied on the young Mattia Caldara to provide cover, and he had a very positive season. The 23-year-old also added seven decisive goals, and he showed Juventus that they made the correct decision by purchasing him for 2018. Caldara’s double against Napoli helped Juve keep their point buffer, but it also proved his value in big encounters. Leonardo Spinazzola showcased himself in many matches with his end to end play on the flanks.

La Dea have always been known for a prosperous youth academy, and this year was the culmination of balance between using young and experienced players. Atalanta are one of Serie A’s teams that need to constantly bring in new players when their young talent is sold off, and Gasperini managed his men very well.

Their return to European competition after 26 years is remarkable, especially considering some of the other teams’ budgets that were in direct contention for qualification. The difficulty for Atalanta going forward will be to stay among Italy’s best after the possible departures of Gomez, Kessie and Spinazzola. If they can manage to fill holes as well as they did last season, then perhaps La Dea can enjoy a brief spell of success in Europe as well.

The Coach – Gian Piero Gasperini

Essentially fired by Genoa last summer, Gasp has found his element in Bergamo. The former Juventus youth team Coach relished the chance to bring new talent through and flourished at a club that put its absolute faith in his ideas. This is the year of his rebirth.

Player of the Year - Alejandro Gomez

The pint-sized Argentine was one of Serie A’s most prolific players this season, scoring 16 goals and adding 10 assists to help propel his club to new heights. The diminutive forward maximized his pace, skill and technical ability, but his leadership role as captain often went unnoticed. He even launched a charity single with his ‘Papu Dance.’

Highlight – Napoli 0-2 Atalanta

Two goals from the unlikely hero Mattia Caldara sealed a victory over third-placed Napoli at the San Paolo, capping off a run of four consecutive wins. They are the only side to have beaten the Partenopei both home and away this season. 

Nightmare – Inter 7-1 Atalanta

Two weeks after their impressive win over Napoli, La Dea looked a totally different side at San Siro in a seven-goal thrashing to Inter. It was a head-to-head for fourth place and everyone assumed this had to burst the bubble, paving the way for an Inter resurgence. It proved to be only a blip.

Did You Know?

- The Bergamo boys shattered their previous points record of 50, set in 2006-07 and 2013-14.

- Atalanta’s previous best top flight finish was fifth in 1947-48.

- Gian Piero Gasperini lost four of the first five games, then only four defeats in the rest of the season.