Champions LeagueFootball

Everything you need to know about Atalanta ahead of their audacious bid to win the Champions League

August 7, 2020

THE increased blurring between old and contemporary football was perfectly illustrated this week when one of the leading online retro football shirt companies announced that there would be a consignment of Atalanta away kits from 1991-92/1992-93 (remember when shirts lasted two years?) dropping at 5pm on Monday.

Imagine telling someone three years ago that a) the market in football collectables would be this big and b) Atalanta would be at the bleeding edge. Relegated from Serie A in 2002-03, 2004-05 and 2009-10, they bounced back each time like some sort of Bergamo West Bromwich Albion and slowly, unlike West Brom to be fair, moulded themselves into a team comfortable with upper middle-class life in Italy’s top division as the 2020s approached.

2018-19 saw them finish as high as third for the first time in the club’s history, giving them entry into a Champions League campaign in which they are still very much alive and kicking. Another third place in 2019-20 means that even if Atalanta lose to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday evening (and that’s very much up for debate) they’ll be back again before you know it.

So here’s the situation: you need to know more about Atalanta, both for the short term [next week] and the long term [the possibly endless 2020-21 season which they are bound to tear up again], so here’s an invaluable guide to the team who could soon be known as ‘the Leicester City of the Alps’.
 

They score lots of goals right?

Quite a few yeah. I recently heard your uncle at a barbecue loudly declaring “Serie A is on the way back but for me it could still do with a few more goals”. Can you please tell him that there were 3.04 goals per game this season in Italy’s top-flight, a rate that hasn’t been seen in England since the 1960s. And Atalanta were the main movers behind this glut, scoring 98 times, the most by a single club in Serie A since Juventus in 1951/52.

 

That’s a lot of goals, although Manchester City scored more…
 

Yes but no team in Europe’s major leagues this season had as many shots on target as Atalanta. 269 of them, ahead of City in second and Bayern in third. This is a team so perfectly designed to create and take opportunities that, as many teams have discovered, there’s no real way to stop them.

Shut down the first XI and the bench will get you: 20 of their goals came from substitutes which shattered the Serie A record in the three-points-for-a-win-era (previously held by Juventus in 2003-04 with 13). They also became the first Serie A team to see not a single one of their goals come from an Italian player, with Duvan Zapata (18 goals, Colombia), Luis Muriel (18, Colombia) and Josip Ilicic (15, Slovenia) leading the way.

11 of Muriel’s came from the bench by the way, that’s more goals in matches where the fourth official has needlessly checked your studs than Alexandre Lacazette scored in total.
 

Ok, so that’s the goals, who are the creators in this footballing art-project?
 

Well Alejandro Gómez supplied 16 assists, the most in recorded Serie A history, and it wasn’t just a one-season thing, because 2019-20 was the fourth season in a row he’d hit double figures. No other player in the top five leagues, not your De Bruynes, not your Messis, not your Mullers, is on such a consistently long run.

And if Liverpool have Trent Alexander-Arnold as a defender-who-actually-posts-numbers-most-forwards-would-happily-accept, then Atalanta have Robin Gosens who had 17 goal involvements (9G 8A) in the league this season. A wingback who is much more wing than back.
 

You know when I once said I would never have a second team? I was lying. Give me more please.
 

Anyone who watches Gian Piero Gasperini’s team will know his approach is incredibly adventurous. Risky yes, but so is everything really, so why not. Like Paxman on Michael Howard they will press you, press you, press you and Atalanta’s total 551 pressed sequences was inevitably the most in Serie A this season.

I know, your uncle’s put down his burger and is asking what a pressed sequence is? It’s when the opposition begins a possession within 40 metres of their own goal and the other team force them to give up the ball within three passes or fewer. Tell him Ian Rush did it in the 1980s and he’ll accept it as valid. Atalanta’s PPDA was also the lowest in the division at only 9.3, again hugely impressive numbers. What’s that… your uncl… tell him to leave it.

 

I am now incredibly excited about watching Atalanta destroy Paris Saint-Germain next week.
 

Well that seems a little harsh on Paris, given the game takes place on the club’s 50th birthday (they remain one day older than Alan Shearer) but yes, Atalanta are surely the neutrals choice for the remainder of this unusual one-game/one-dream Champions League format.

They became the first team to get to the round of 16 having lost their opening three matches and have scored past the following goalkeepers in the competition this season: Andriy Pyatov, Jaume Domenach, Jasper Cillessen, Dominik Livakovic, Ederson and Claudio Bravo. The only man in gloves to keep them out? Kyle Walker.