Atalanta rocketed into the Champions League places last season. Sam Wilson questions what that means domestically this year.
Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini
Last season: Third, 69 points
Player of the Year 2018-19: Duvan Zapata
Look out for: Luis Muriel
Atalanta were, for many, the biggest surprise of last season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side had a rocky start to the campaign but quickly found their feet and eventually finished in third, taking away a coveted qualification spot for the 2019-20 Champions League from one of their higher-spending divisional rivals.
Despite an embarrassing exit from the Europa League to Danish side FC Copenhagen at the start of last season, meaning the club would not feature in the tournament’s group stage, Atalanta bounced back in spectacular fashion. However, it took them time. Gasperini’s side won just one of their first eight games in Serie A but would then go on to lose just three in their next 15, including impressive wins over Lazio [1-0] and Inter [4-1], as well as draws with Roma [3-3] and Juventus [2-2].
Where the club really showed their strength was in the last third of their League campaign, where they went 13 games unbeaten, propelling themselves into third place. In this time, La Dea achieved an impressive away victory at Napoli [2-1], as well as draws at San Siro against Inter [0-0] and in Turin against Juventus [1-1].
On the topic of Juventus, it was Atalanta who knocked the Scudetto winners out of Coppa Italia, a tournament where Gasperini’s side made it all the way to the final, before losing to Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio in a match that meant far more for the Biancocelesti. The win put Lazio into the Europa League, but Atalanta went one better.
This summer, Atalanta bolstered their side with some key signings. The club purchased Colombian forward Luis Muriel from Sevilla, the striker impressing with a loan spell with Fiorentina in the second half of the 2018-19 season. Meanwhile, they reinforced their defence with former Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel, after selling Gianluca Mancini to Roma. The Bergamo outfit also signed Genk’s Ruslan Malinovsky to bolster their midfield depth.
In pre-season, though, Atalanta have disappointed. Despite putting four past Norwich City in a 4-1 win, the club have slumped to defeats to EFL Championship side Swansea City, Premier League Leicester City and La Liga’s Getafe, which could cause slight concern amongst fans. Regardless, Atalanta will be busy preparing for their maiden Champions League campaign and tcould be focused on conditioning first and foremost, ahead of picking up somewhat irrelevant wins in pre-season.
That brings us to this season coming up. As the old proverb goes, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. Although this is factually inaccurate, it’s still unlikely that Atalanta qualify for the Champions League again. Whilst the squad has improved in minor ways, all the other top teams in Serie A have significantly added their squads.
This, in combination with the added stress of the Champions League, means that Atalanta may struggle, especially if they qualify past the group stages of the tournament and have to travel large distances in the second half of the campaign. That’s where the club really shone last season, but tiredness might kick in this time.
In all, it will not be a disastrous season and Atalanta fans will enjoy their first taste of Champions League football, just as long as it doesn’t have too detrimental of an effect on their Serie A performance.
The Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini
Gian Piero Gasperini has truly revolutionised this Atalanta team and can probably be named as the main reason for the club’s meteoric rise to success.
Gasperini has brought a high-intensity attacking style of play to the club, with an exciting system that utilises a high press and fluid wing play in combination with a talented trequartista in Alejandro Gomez and the prolific Duvan Zapata.
Key summer signing: Luis Muriel
Atalanta signed Colombian forward Luis Muriel from Sevilla for a €15m fee this summer. Muriel spent a few months on loan with Fiorentina last season and was a real threat with his excellent dribbling skills that caused many a defender a problem.
Muriel is the perfect foil for Zapata in attack and will work well in combination with his fellow countryman.
Key summer sale: Gianluca Mancini
With Roma selling Greek defender Kostas Manolas to Napoli, it was only a matter of time before they sourced his replacement. In the end, the Giallorossi opted for Atalanta’s Italian centre-back Gianluca Mancini, the young defender playing a big part in the club’s results last season.
Mancini has left on loan with an obligation to buy and there is a concern that Martin Skrtel may struggle to fill the void left by the Italian starlet.
Predicted XI [3-4-1-2]: Gollini; Toloi, Palomino, Masiello; Hateboer, De Roon, Pasalic, Gosens; Gomez; Zapata, Muriel