Atalanta: Lombardy's 'other team' on course for historic season
Background Image: Pedronjo, CC BY-SA 3.0
Atalanta is on course for its best season yet. The poor man's Nerazzurri is eyeing maiden Champions League qualification. With two matches to go, the dream becomes more realistic. But before that happens, they have a shot at silverware - the Coppa Italia final against Lazio later today.
When Lombardy is mentioned, two clubs immediately jumps at you; AC Milan and Inter Milan. This term, however, the minnows from Bergamo are causing quite a stir.
San Siro co-tenants, AC and Inter controlled Italy's Northwestern region for over a century. The pair took turns to lay siege on the Serie A. They share 36 Scudettos – one more than the dominant Juventus.
They've shaped the European football landscape. Milan collected the illustrious Champions League seven times, coming close on four other occasions. Its blue-clad neighbours, meanwhile, lifted it thrice from five attempts.
Atalanta has carried the torch this season. The Goddess may ultimately finish above their affluent neighbours in the Serie A. With 65 points, they are just one point behind third-placed Inter and four above Milan. A first Coppa Italia could add colour to an already sparkling season.
Since Gian Piero Gasperini’s arrival, Atalanta has played the most exciting football on the peninsula. They're finally being rewarded for it. Despite losing key players every other season, they've maintained their eye-catching style. In recent years, the Goddess lost Andrea Conti and Frank Kessie to AC Milan, Mattia Caldara and Leonardo Spinazzola to Juventus, and Bryan Crystante to Roma. To come through that all-the-better for it, Atalanta deserves credit.
The squad’s ability to adapt and bed in new players is a testament to the coaching methods of their Italian manager – a man determined to provide Calcio with a new set of talent and an engaging, watchable style brand. His preferred system involves three centre-backs in front of a conventional goalkeeper. They are offered protection by two industrious central midfielders, who are flanked by two energetic wing-backs.
That system yielded fruits aplenty. La Dea’s 36 games produced 77 goals; the most in the division. Gasperini has the attacking trio of Papu Gomez, Josep Ilicic, and most of all, Capocannoniere contender Duvan Zapata to thank.
Should they go on to claim their second ever Coppa Italia and qualify for next season’s Champions League, the 2018/2019 season will undoubtedly go down as arguably Atalanta’s most successful season in their entire history.
Atalanta has not won the Coppa Italia since 1963. The club has only reached two further finals, with the last coming in 1996. That's an indication of exactly what Wednesday night will mean for La Dea. Lazio stands between them and history.
Gasperini's side has not lost a single game since Torino beat them in Serie A at February's end. A staggering run of domestic form has taken them into the top three and they will enter this match off the back of four straight league successes, including a 2-1 home win over Genoa on Saturday.
Atalanta beat Lazio 3-1 in the league on May 5 and have a huge scalp to their name in this season's Coppa Italia. They forcefully eliminated Juventus 3-0 as January drawn to a close, setting up a semi-final with Fiorentina. The first leg finished 3-3, but Atalanta won 2-1 on home soil to advance to the final.
Although Lazio will enjoy home advantage at the Stadio Olimpico, the Goddess' razor-sharp attack could make all the difference. Invincibility status awaits if they do.