September 21st. That was, to date, the last time Atalanta lost a match.
La Dea suffered a shock 1-0 reversal to Palermo, which marked their second straight defeat after being thrashed 3-0 by Cagliari. That would prove to be the turning point, and they have not looked back since.
In fact, heading into their tie with Roma, Atalanta have won four matches on the trot, including recording three straight clean sheets. They have shown they can mix it up with the “big boys” of Italian football after defeating Napoli and Inter. And they have shown they can grind out results against teams whose sole intent is to earn a point, as demonstrated against Pescara.
Last season saw them finish in 13th spot. The season prior to that, the Nerazzurri barely escaped the drop as they scraped by in 17th. And this term did not start off well for Gian Piero Gasperini’s men. In fact, they won just one out of their first five fixtures, which left them in 18th spot. For all intents and purposes, it looked like La Dea would struggle yet again.
But then, something changed. Atalanta began to rapidly climb up the table and now sit in fifth place. So, what’s finally starting to go right for the goddess of Bergamo this season?
Keeping the faith with Gasperini
Current Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini knew the writing was on the wall after the team’s bad start to the season. After all, the ex-Genoa and Palermo boss had faced the same thing with Inter. Four losses in five rounds with the other Nerazzurri cost him his job. Furthermore, anyone who has been manager of Palermo will inevitably be sacked – and perhaps re-hired – a short time later, so Gasperini is very much well aware of the fickle nature of club owners.
In 2011, it was a shock loss to then Serie A newcomers Novara that cost him his job with Inter. Flash-forward five years later and the team had suffered another surprise defeat – to his former side Palermo at home. So, for all intents and purposes, it was win or go home against Crotone, and after beating the debutants, Atalanta appeared to regain their confidence. Six wins in seven games is among the best runs in the league so far this term, and it will be interesting to see how they continue after the international hiatus against Roma this weekend.
It goes without saying that had the club decided to sack Gasperini, they may have found themselves in free-fall, and the team’s ownership will surely be hoping that their gamble will pay dividends at the end of this season.
The kids are alright
Of course, a coach can’t get good results without his players. And this season, it’s been the youngsters who have impressed. Atalanta has long had a tradition of cultivating talent, with current players like Riccardo Montolivo and Giacomo Bonaventura and icons like Filippo Inzaghi, Roberto Donadoni, and Christian Vieri all having played for them in the earlier stages of their careers. It has also been a breeding ground for several of the game’s notable managers: ex-Azzurri bosses Antonio Conte, Cesare Prandelli, and Marcello Lippi are among those who cut their teeth in Bergamo.
Currently, Atalanta has nine homegrown players within its set-up, but more important is the fact that they actually get to play. It’s not uncommon for Gasperini to field a starting XI in which nearly half of the personnel are 22 years old or younger. Last season, not many had heard of young Ivorian talent Franck Kessie. Now the 19-year-old is rapidly becoming a household name, with big clubs like Juventus, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool all reportedly chasing his signature.
Other standouts include 22-year-old midfielder Roberto Gagliardini, who recently received a call-up to the Azzurri for his efforts, as well as 21-year-old striker Andrea Petagna, who barely got a sniff whilst at AC Milan but has become an integral part of La Dea’s campaign this term.
Impressive…but still more challenges ahead
To sum things up, Atalanta have indeed been impressive, but the season is far from over. After Roma, they have an interesting mix of fixtures between now and the end of the year. There’s struggling Pescara and Empoli. Unpredictable Bologna and Udinese. And the other top two sides: Juventus and Milan.
Not exactly the easiest run-in, but they are growing in confidence – so much so that that they are backed at 17/20 to at least pick up a point against Roma this Sunday. Should they make it eight games without defeat, they will certainly go some ways towards proving that they just may be the “real deal” and La Dea deserves her fair share of respect.