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Nine games and counting: Can Atalanta truly shock Serie A this season?

Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta continues to go strong...but how far can they really go this term? (Photo: viveremilano.biz)

Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta continues to go strong…but how far can they really go this term?
(Photo: viveremilano.biz)

Just how long is it going to last?

That is the question many Serie A observers must be asking themselves about Atalanta’s resurgent form. La Dea have not lost a game since a shock 1-0 reversal to Palermo on September 21st. Currently in fifth spot, 25 of their 28 points were earned in just nine games. In fact, having won eight and drawn one, Atalanta are currently on the longest unbeaten run in the league.

Over that period, Gian Piero Gasperini’s lads have conceded just five goals. It may not seem noteworthy, but Atalanta do not exactly boast the formidable back-line of reigning champions Juventus. Furthermore, they have faced some of the highest scoring sides in the league this season, including Roma and Torino.

They came from behind to defeat the Granata 2-1 on matchday three, which happened to be their only win in their first five games. Roma, however, were widely believed to be a much stiffer challenge. However, they had already beaten Napoli. Hence, if they could come out on top against the Giallorossi they would go a long ways to sending out a clear signal to the rest of Italy.

Well, just like against Torino, Atalanta were at home. Just like against Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side, Gasperini’s men had to come from behind. And just like against the Granata, La Dea earned a hard-fought and well-deserved 2-1 victory.

They have since followed that up with another scrappy win on the road against Bologna last weekend. Next up is a showdown with league leaders Juventus. Atalanta have not historically fared well against the Bianconeri, but some early backers have them at 6/1 to shock Massimiliano Allegri’s men this weekend. If one takes into account that Leicester City were backed at 5000 to 1 to win the Premier League, then 6 to 1 odds certainly are not too far-fetched.

The question is, “Can Atalanta continue on to shock Serie A this season?” It won’t be easy, but they certainly can make a splash. Here are a few reasons why.

No European distractions for Atalanta

One of the things that helped Leicester City last season was the fact that they had no European commitments. The same applies to Sassuolo, who only arrived in Serie A in 2013 but secured a Europa League spot for the first time in their history last term. This season, AC Milan have also been impressive under Vincenzo Montella, but the Rossoneri are also without European football for yet another term.

As for Atalanta, well, they finished in 13th last campaign. This means that Gasperini doesn’t have to concern himself with far-flung trips across the continent and the team only generally has to play once a week – which allows him to keep his players fresher and (hopefully) injury-free as the season continues into 2017. Their 25 points are the highest total out of any other team in Europe’s top leagues during the same time-frame.

A curious and intriguing stat…is this a sign for La Dea?

Interestingly enough, Atalanta’s points total – 28 is only one less than Leicester’s 29 earned after 14 rounds last term. However, unlike the Foxes, the vast majority of La Dea’s points have been earned in just nine rounds. At the start of matchday six, the Nerazzurri were sitting just one place from the bottom. They now are only behind fourth-placed Lazio on goal difference, and more important, just one point behind Milan and Roma – who occupy the Champions League places.

Were the season to end today, Atalanta, who barely escaped the drop a few seasons back, would be back in the Europa League. Their last draw was against Fiorentina, meaning that they have won eight consecutive games. And given that Juventus are now facing a major injury crisis at the back, coupled with their shock 3-1 loss to Genoa, the feeling is that Atalanta just may be able to make it ten games sans defeat – and possibly a ninth straight win – this weekend.

A young and hungry squad

Atalanta boast one of the youngest starting XIs in the league and more important, a plethora of home-grown talent. Ivorian rising starlet Franck Kessie has been the one grabbing the most attention due to his versatility, pace, power, and tactical nous that belies his 19 years of age. Other young standouts include Andrea Petagna, who endured a frustrating spell with Milan as well as Roberto Gagliardini, who recently earned a call-up to the Azzurri. Of course, it’s not all about the youth. Players like Jasmin Kurtic and Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gómez have also been revived under Gasperini’s tenure.

A wily tactician…who has never really received much credit

Gasperini himself nearly was sacked at the start of the season after losing four out of the team’s four games. He experienced the same bad start at Inter a few seasons back and was not afforded any time to turn things around. Atalanta’s executives, however, decided to put some faith in him – and it has paid dividends.

Not much was expected of him at the start of this season,  and still, not much is expected from him at the conclusion of this campaign. This is what can play to his – and Atalanta’s – advantage. Just as not much was expected of Claudio Ranieri and Leicester last season, La Dea can certainly continue to quietly plod along, game after game. The race for the title is a marathon, and not a sprint. Although it will be tough, there is always that old saying, “slow and steady is the one that wins the race”. Five points divide them from upcoming opponents Juventus. That could be cut to two should they manage an upset in Turin. All in all, with the form they are in right now, one may want to take pause before writing them off – both for that game and for the rest of this term.

 

 

Tue 29 Nov, 2016
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