Following consecutive finishes inside the Champions League spots, Atalanta head into a crucial season once again. Sam Brookes takes a look at how La Dea could fare.
The new Serie A season is almost upon us, and it promises to be an intriguing one. Inter will be hoping to defend their title, despite bidding farewell to manager Antonio Conte, as well as key players Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi over the summer, while Juventus will be determined to reclaim their crown under the guidance of the returning Massimiliano Allegri.
Elsewhere, Milan are one of the few clubs in the division who didn’t get a new manager in over the summer and the project under Stefano Pioli will motor on.
And then there’s Atalanta. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have consistently punched above their weight in recent years. Can they do so again this term?
Impressive 2020/21 season despite obstacles
In 2020/21, Atalanta finished in third place in Serie A for the third consecutive season. It was also the third successive year that they had ended the campaign as the highest scorers in Italy’s top division, as the side lit up the league once more.
It was not always plain sailing for the team, though. Their charismatic captain Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez departed the club in January after a rather public dressing room dispute with Gasperini. This could have derailed Atalanta’s season, but instead they took it in their stride and continued to push on.
The side won 13 of their final 17 Serie A fixtures to finish above Juventus and Napoli, securing another season of Champions League football.
Speaking of Europe, Atalanta did themselves proud in the Champions League, navigating their way through a group containing Liverpool and Ajax. They were knocked out in the round of 16 by Real Madrid but will get the chance to better that effort this season.
Leaky defence needs addressing
While Atalanta are a joy to watch from an attacking perspective, they can still look fragile at the back at times. The side conceded 47 goals in Serie A in 2020/21 – no other side in the top five shipped as many goals. In some ways, their blistering approach can leave them exposed at the back.
Atalanta’s style of play lends itself to taking more risks, meaning that they are vulnerable to the counter-attack. They conceded 48 and 46 goals, respectively, in their previous two campaigns as well, showing that last season was not a one-off.
If they are to take that final step and make a genuine title challenge, they may need to strike a slightly better balance between attack and defence this year.
Consistency is key for La Dea
Atalanta have established themselves as a top four outfit over the last few years, and they will expect to be mixing it with the best clubs in the country again over the next nine months.
There may even be an opportunity for them to mount a push for the championship. With Inter selling some of their best players due to financial difficulties, and Juventus having a very quiet transfer window this summer, the league does seem to be wide open.
Indeed, eight of the top half clubs from last season have changed their manager, while Atalanta have stuck with Gasperini, and this stability could be an advantage for the Bergamo-based club.
A top four finish would be another fantastic achievement but Atalanta’s fans may be dreaming of even more this year.
Luis Muriel to fire once again?
Luis Muriel was Atalanta’s top scorer in Serie A last term, netting 22 goals, and he will be expected to produce the goods again this year. Equally capable of making an impact from the start of games or off the bench, he formed a prolific partnership with Duvan Zapata in the final months of the season.
Atalanta also have one of the finest wing-backs in Europe in their ranks in Robin Gosens. The 27-year-old has been directly involved in 36 league goals over the last two seasons, and demonstrated what he could do on the international stage against Portugal at Euro 2020 over the summer, when he caused Nelson Semedo all sorts of problems during a 4-2 win for Germany.
Meanwhile, the club have also brought in goalkeeper Juan Musso from Udinese. Gasperini rotated between Pierluigi Gollini, who has now joined Tottenham, and Marco Sportiello last season but Musso looks set to be the undisputed No. 1 this time around. If he can replicate the displays that he regularly delivered at Udinese, he could be a major asset for Atalanta moving forwards.
Potential title charge for Atalanta?
Atalanta have lost Gollini and Cristian Romero to the Premier League this summer but they have replaced them well with Musso and Merih Demiral, so there is no reason why they cannot have another strong season in the top-flight.
With Inter looking less formidable now that Lukaku and Hakimi have left, plus Roma and Lazio failing to significantly strengthen their squads in the current transfer window, Atalanta should seal a top four finish.
We expect them to end the campaign in third place for a fourth successive year, delighting their supporters with their attacking brand of football along the way.
By Sam Brookes