When the most powerful man in European football, Andrea Agnelli (Ironically the president of Juventus) is intimidated by the attacking prowess of a club, it means that the team is definitely doing something right. The club in question here is Atalanta BC, who were emerging as the next force in the Italian football before COVID-19 took them over and brought Europe to a grinding halt.
"I have great respect for everything that Atalanta are doing, but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?,” the European Club Association chief questioned while speaking to FT Business of Football Summit in London, per goal.
What has to be kept in mind though is that the club from Bergamo, who have experienced less than moderate success in the beautiful game, have scored a staggering 70 goals in Serie A; 10 more than Agnelli’s Juventus. Having achieved promotion to the Serie A in the 2010-11 season, the club have improved leaps and bounds since, reaching the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history after finishing third; only behind Juventus and Lazio the previous season.
While the Champions League is known to bring out the best in the teams with young squads, with AFC Ajax and Monaco being prime examples, the success story of Atalanta is a little different. Their current roster includes an ex Aston Villa goalkeeper who rejected Juventus for ‘game-time’, a Chelsea youngster who seemingly lost his way after starting his career brightly, and a Slovenian midfielder, who is finally having his breakout season after 10 years in Italy.
At the helm is Gian Piero Gasperini. After a stuttering start to his Serie A career, Gasperini has built his team around an attacking brand of football, and his project has seemingly taken off with Atalanta after failed stints with Genoa and Inter Milan. Under the former Juventus academy player, Atalanta qualified for the Europa League in his first season, and then the Champions League after finishing 3rd in the league. Atalanta also made it to the final of the 2018-19 Coppa Italia by knocking out the defending champions, Juventus in the quarter-finals.
At the pin of Atalanta’s attack is Josip Ilicic, who is their highest goal scorer as well as the highest-scoring midfielder in the Serie A at 15 goals. Among the top 15 goalscorers, Atalanta have all members of their front three, i.e. Luis Muriel, once a Barcelona target (the Blaugrana opted to sign Kevin-Prince Boateng instead), Duvan Zapata, a Colombian international who seemingly was unable to settle wherever he played (including West Ham United). Combined, these three have scored 39 goals of Atalanta’s 70 goals. Moreover, Ilicic has played six matches lesser than the tournament’s top goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo, while Zapata has a staggering return of 11 goals in 15 matches.
Another player of key importance is Alejandro Gomez, who ranks second in the assist charts in the league. Atalanta players dominate the assist charts as well, with Zapata as well and Rafael Toloi registering more assists than the Argentine star Paulo Dybala. On an average, Atalanta have the highest shots on target in the league, while averaging 2.8 goals per game. They have the most assists along with goals, have completed more crosses than Juventus and rank third for the most possession on the field, bettered closely by only the Bianconeri and Napoli. These statistics are a testament to Gasperini’s attacking style of play, allowing them to score 16 goals in the Champions League while scaring the likes of Andre Agnelli, an achievement in itself.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Miguel Medina