2019/20 Atlalanta Serie A preview
Background image: Luigi Chiesa, CC BY-SA 3.0
Last season marked the first time, in over a century of existence, that Atalanta reached the Champions League. The poor man's Nerazzurri finished third – behind Juventus and Napoli, ahead of affluent Lombardy neighbours AC Milan and Internazionale. It was a befitting reward for enormous progress under Gian Piero Gasperini.
At the start of the 2018/19, Juventus were again favourites to maintain its domestic hegemony, especially after Cristiano Ronaldo's ground-breaking arrival. Not ripe enough to challenge the Old Lady still, Napoli's perennial runner-up title was never in doubt. The real contest, however, was the four-team battle royal beneath for the last two Champions League slots.
It was forecasted to be a straight fight between Rome and Milan; blue against red. Atalanta was not in the mix, sidelined. Gasperini’s fourth-place position the previous season was considered a fluke, having lost three spots one year after. Those thoughts vanished in May when De Lea defeated Sassuolo to enter Europe's elite club competition.
The Goddess’ eye-catching style produced dividends aplenty. Any time Atalanta played, goals rained. With 77 strikes, they ranked top in Serie A – more than Juve and Napoli. Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic were influential. While the Colombian rifled home 23 goals in 32 starts, lacing seven others for teammates, Ilicic buried a dozen and assisted another seven.
Behind, Alejandro Gomez roamed freely around the midfield, helping to orchestrate play and make space for others. He finished with seven goals and 11 assists in Serie A and created more chances than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues (111). At the back, Gianluca Mancini was on hand to form a barricade. On five occasions he stepped forward to score, the wall remained at the back.
Sadly, the 23-year-old won't be at Stadio Atleti Azzuri this season after moving to Stadio Olimpico. He links up with Bryan Cristante who spent the last campaign on loan there. Frank Kessie and Andrea Petagna completed permanent switches too following rather successful loan spells at AC Milan and SPAL respectively.
That said, holding on to key players could prove vital. While Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez remained, three new faces arrived. Marco Varnier, 21, joined from Cittadella for around £4m. Ruslan Malinovskyi and Luis Muriel were snapped from Genk and Sevilla for a combined fee of around £25m. The pair would offer depth in the final third. Martin Skrtel will add his experience at the other. As usual, Atalanta made huge profit in the window.
The Milanese owe their recent success to Gasperini. The Italian took over the helms in 2016 and they've consistently punched above their weight afterwards. From scrapping in Serie A relegation pit, he lifted the club to the Champions League paradise. He achieved this showcasing an attractive, high-press style unpopular in Italy. Despite links to several top sides, Gasperini elected to continue his project in Bergamo.
Any bit of silverware would be the manager's priority. Although serial lower league winners, Atalanta haven’t clinched an elite title since the Coppa Italia in 1963. Optimism is at a fever-pitch level. They came close last season but slipped against Lazio in Coppa final. They reached the semi-final the previous campaign.
Atalanta could pick as much as seven wins from their opening 10 fixtures. De Lea begin the campaign at SPAL before hosting Torino in Lombardy. Genoa and Fiorentina follow but the first real test would be Roma. Sassuolo, Lecce and Udinese are potential maximum points, while Lazio and Napoli on the road are tricky.
Atalanta will most likely have some regression this season. Still, they should still retain their spot in Europe even if it is dropping to the Europa League. The major concern, though, is lack of squad depth...