Atalanta’s rapid rise to prominence has sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world, with Gian Piero Gasperini’s men taking Europe by storm. Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez has been at the heart of everything good in Bergamo in recent years but has since left the club after falling out with Gasperini.
Gomez made his move to Sevilla official on Thursday, joining the Andalusian side for just under six million euros. While Atalanta will be hoping its next-man-up mentality can help replace the departed Argentine, Gomez represented far more than just a playmaker. In many ways, Papu made Gasperini’s side tick and always looked to get on the ball in the final third. Gli Orobici has largely impressed since Gomez was frozen out of the team, picking up convincing wins against Sassuolo, Roma, Lazio, and Milan among others.
Atalanta’s most recent defeat, however, is cause for concern. Lazio completed dominated the battle in the middle of the park, emerging 3-1 winners against the Bergamo-based outfit. Without Gomez pulling the strings in between the lines, Atalanta struggled to create chances and looked toothless for much of the affair. Atalanta’s recent triumphs over Italy’s big sides are encouraging, but if Gasperini’s men are to reach last season’s heights, they will need players to step up.
Matteo Pessina has done well since returning to Atalanta, establishing himself as Gasperini’s first-choice attacking midfielder. The former Hellas Verona man has done well linking up play in the final third but does not yield the same influence Gomez held. Pessina is not a traditional trequartista and mostly relies on his keen sense of positioning to get in good areas.
Gasperini has also turned to Josip Ilicic and Aleksei Miranchuk in attack. The former has done exceptionally well since Gomez’s falling out and has largely picked up the slack in the offensive third. The Slovenian is arguably Atalanta’s best bet at replacing the Argentine’s creativity without having to dip into their transfer kitty. Against Lazio, however, Ilicic’s limitations were brought to light. The former Palermo man is one of the league’s most creative outlets, however, he has undoubtedly benefitted from Gomez’s ability to progress the ball into dangerous areas. Without him, Ilicic must drop back often, reducing his ability to hurt the opposition inside the box.
Miranchuk is another player that will be looking to take his game to the next level. The Russian international is the most similar to Gomez in terms of playing style but lacks consistency. Miranchuk has only made two starts thus far in league action and will likely benefit from a run of games in the starting lineup.
Should Miranchuk struggle with a bigger role, Gasperini could always turn to Malinovskiy. The Ukrainian international thrives from the base of midfield but has featured regularly behind the strikers. Blessed with a wicked shot on both feet, Malinovskiy could offer Gasperini’s side some much-needed end product. However, much like Pessina, the 27-year-old is not an out-and-out number 10 and cannot be expected to deliver on Gomez’s level.
Atalanta’s recent victories have papered over the cracks, but make no mistake about it: Gli Orobici are a completely different team without Gomez and will soon need to adapt. Gasperini has demonstrated a unique ability to make the most of the squad at his disposal and continue to deliver beyond expectations. The Italian tactician has a number of options he can turn to in Gomez’s absence, with all players offering him something a little different.
Whether it is Ilicic, Miranchuk, Pessina, or Malinovskiy, Atalanta boasts impressive depth in the creative department. However, as much as depth is useful, Papu Gomez is not easily replaceable. With Gasperini forced back to the drawing board and a two-legged affair with Real Madrid looming, things are about to get interesting in Bergamo.
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