Atalanta: The surprise package in Italy this season?
Background image: Save the Dream, CC BY-2.0
Beating Juventus 3-0 does not happen often, especially in domestic competition. So when a team accomplishes the feat, it deserves all the praise it can get. But Atalanta's thrashing of a high-flying Juventus side, parading a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in the Coppa Italia, is not the club's greatest achievement this term. In Serie A, Atalanta is doing even better.
A 1-0 victory away at Cagliari brought the side to within a point of the top four. The inconsistency already exhibited by the two Milan giants who sit third and fourth on the log and sixth-place Roma can work in La Dea’s favour. But Gian Piero Gasperini’s team is more interested in making its own luck.
For a club that has suffered many setbacks in the last decade, the last couple of years have been amazing. From a 13th-place finish in the 2015–16 campaign under then manager Edoardo Reja, the side has witnessed a transformation under his successor. Gasperini has got the team playing some good football with results to go with it. In his first season in charge, the team finished fourth on the log with 72 points. As the traditional big teams reinforced and took their place at the summit, Nerazzurri settled for seventh position last season. It was still considered success by the club's standards.
However, it was not regarded as the best. Having tasted European football again after 26 years, the team is geared to go one better this time around. The last time a major trophy was secured was in 1963 - the Coppa Italia. 2019 may be the next. Dispatching holders and Serie A bullies Juventus by such a goal margin makes a statement. Having a set of players with such a strong desire for success as has been demonstrated in the last few weeks is a key requirement for achievement.
No, Orobici will not win the Scudetto this year, no matter how hard they try. But a fourth-place finish at season's end and qualification for the Champions League will rank up there as well. It will entail the making of history and the competitors left in their wake will make the accomplishment even more enjoyable. Apparently, for Atalanta to qualify for Europe's elite competition it will mean that two of Inter, AC Milan and Roma fail to make it.
The inconsistency exhibited by these sides in recent times is a source of hope for the Black and Blues. Inter for example has not won any of its last four games. Gennaro Gattuso's side is nowhere near the AC Milan of years gone by. Europa League football has replaced playing in a competition the team became famous for both in Italy and in the eyes of the world.
Eusebio Di Francesco's Roma has been the worst of the bunch this term in terms of consistency. It's surprising how the gaffer has kept his job despite numerous speculations concerning his sack. Only a rallying back to secure good results in recent games has lifted the side back into contention for a top four place.
The team was hit hard by the sale of some key players like midfielders Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman as well as goalkeeper Alisson Becker who now plies his trade with Liverpool in the Premier League. Most of the new acquisitions are yet to settle down and get in sync with the team.
On the contrary, Atalanta parades a well-knit group that play seamlessly together. Midfielder and captain Papu Gomez orchestrates the rhythm of play from the middle of the park while front man Duvan Zapata is usually on hand to apply the finishing touch. The efficiency of the team has been responsible for the surge in the league and domestic Cup competition.
Sandwiched between AC Milan and Roma in fifth place, Atalanta remains well positioned to cause a upset in Serie A by laying claim to a Champions League place at the end of the campaign. Seven successive matches without a defeat in all competitions suggests this is a side ready for big things.
More so when they have faced Juventus twice as well as Roma within that time. The team has scored 22 goals, conceded eight and kept a clean sheet in four of those matches. At this rate, only Gasperini's men can stop themselves from achieving something remarkable this season.