Atalanta Demonstrate Ambition Ahead of Champions League debut

When Atalanta clinched top four on the final match-day of the season, the critics were out. With vultures circling their side after an impressive year, it looked likely that Gli Orobici’s carefully constructed roster would be dismantled piece by piece. The fear, of course, was that Atalanta, with many key players on their way out, would embarrass Italy on the world stage. However, nothing of the sort appears to be happening.

First, Roma were heavily interested in Gian Piero Gasperini, offering him a long-term deal in the nation’s capital. Opting to lead the side into Europe’s elite competition for the first time ever, the veteran tactician quickly rebuffed their advances. Since joining Atalanta, Gasperini has revived his managerial career, and has transformed the side into a high-flying attacking machine. It’s only right the former Inter manager sees this experience through to the fullest, and leads the side into their first Champions League campaign ever.

In a recent press conference, Gasperini spoke about Roma’s interest. “It would’ve been difficult to leave Atalanta right now,” said Gasperini. “It would’ve almost been a betrayal. Roma were tempting, but what we achieved kept me here,” added the tactician, as per Football Italia.

After keeping their leader aboard, the next step was securing the futures of their regulars. In the early goings of the transfer window, Napoli made strong moves for Josip Ilicic and Hans Hateboer, and reportedly agreed to terms with both players. Despite their interest, the club pushed hard for their stays and both players inevitably decided that remaining in Bergamo was their best option for the upcoming season.

Then, it was Gianluca Mancini that was on every team’s shortlist. Roma, among others, were interested, but the Italian international now appears set to stay. Mancini broke out last season under Gasperini, and established himself as one of Gli Orobici’s leaders in the locker room. His presence at the heart of defence and fearlessness will be much needed in Europe, especially considering Atalanta’s group will be no cakewalk. Currently, the Bergamo-based outfit are in pot four, meaning there’s a strong possibility they will be drawn with at least one of the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and current holders Liverpool.

But this doesn’t scare Gasperini or Atalanta one bit. When asked about who he wants to play, the 61-year-old had no doubts. “The best. That’s what we want,” said Gasperini. “If I had to choose, I’d go to Madrid against Real Madrid because they have a historic stadium. And then England. Our chances aren’t very high, so it’s better to go and play with the best,” added the tactician.

As the weeks passed, every one of Atalanta’s standout players were linked with moves away, yet June has now come and gone, and their side is still completely intact. In fact, Atalanta have recently confirmed the arrival of Luis Muriel. After a successful loan spell with Fiorentina that saw him bag nine goals in 23 appearances in all competitions, Gli Orobici identified the forward as a priority and quickly put pen to paper on an 18 million euro deal with Sevilla.

The 28-year-old will fit like a glove in Gasperini’s high-press system, and will be deadly on the counter-attack alongside Papu Gomez, Duvan Zapata, and Josip Ilicic. Last season, Atalanta scored the most goals in league play with an astonishing 77, and look set to continue their offensive ways. While depth was previously a concern now that they’ll be competing on three fronts, Muriel’s arrival now gives Gasperini’s more options in the final third, and will allow him to rest Zapata when need be.

With just one month of the summer transfer window gone, the early signs are positive for Atalanta. They’ve kept their coach, rejected advances from many of Italy’s top sides for their key performers, and are slowly improving their roster with standouts from fellow mid-table sides. While it may be premature, Atalanta could very well go from being Italy’s surprise package to Europe’s latest darlings in just one summer.

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Assessing the striker market in Serie A

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After previously analyzing the keeper, center back, wing back, midfielder and winger market in Serie A, it’s time to close out this series by analyzing the striker position. Let’s first look at the current situation for the top Italian teams:

 

Juventus- Cristiano Ronaldo did his part in the Champions League by scoring the bianconeri’s five last goals in the competition, Moise’ Kean broke out in 2019 while Mario Mandzukic ran out of gas in second part of season for second year in a row, Paulo Dybala struggled significantly playing next to Ronaldo and only scored 10 goals in all competitions. Higuain could be a significant factor here, because Juventus will be hard pressed to find him a new home to avoid his enormous wages impacting their balance sheet.

Napoli- while Milik scored over 20 goals this season, his miss in the group stages against Liverpool maybe the most memorable moment of his campaign. Dries Mertens had a very strong finish to the season and is determined to stay at club for foreseeable future while Roberto Inglese, who was on loan at Parma, could be used in a deal to secure a bigger name.

Atalanta- in a recent interview, the Bergamaschi’s president Percassi stated that Papu Gomez and Ilicic (who has just one year left on his deal) will stay while Duvan Zapata could be on the move. Highly rated prospect Musa Barrow struggled to find consistent playing time.

Inter- Lautaro Martinez had an overall positive season first season in Serie A since he proved to be a versatile striker but ended up with just 9 goals in all competitions- although he wasn’t help by the fact that Spalletti didn’t think he and Mauro Icardi could play together. Speaking of Icardi, it’s remarkable how much his stock has fallen in 2019…

Milan- with Marco Giampaolo expected to be the next manager, the rossoneri could be playing two strikers regularly- one of which will certainly be Piatek while Cutrone could represent a substantial plusvalenza by being sold since he’s a homegrown player. After a an uneven season in la Liga, Andre’ Silva will either return to Milan or more likely his agent Jorge Mendes will have to find him a third team in three years.

Roma- with the giallorossi determined to slash their payroll after failing to qualify for the Champions League, Edin Dzeko is certain to leave now that he has just one year on his deal. While Patrik Schick showed some flashes of his Sampdoria form at the beginning of 2019 after he hired a personal motivator, he still has yet to come close to justifying his transfer fee and there’s been a talk of a swap with Andre’ Silva that would send him to Milan where he would be reunited with Marco Giampaolo, the manager who got the most out of him.

Lazio- Ciro Immobile had his worst season at Lazio but still scored 15 goals in Serie A while Felipe Caicedo showed significant improvement in his second year in Italy. The biancocelesti have recently linked to FIFA superstar Wesley who would be an intriguing long term addition.

Let’s take a look at which strikers could be on the move:

 

Fabio Quagliarella- the 36 year old attacker finished the season as the league’s top scorer and could be on the move this summer. Napoli are considering bringing him back, which would also be an attempt to mend fences with their fan base. It however remains to be seen if Quagliarella is willing to go to a team where he won’t be a guaranteed starter since he’s looking to be part of Italy’s team for next year’s Euro.

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Duvan Zapata/Josip Ilicic- Quagliarella isn’t the only former Napoli player linked with a return to the Amalfi coast this summer, in fact Duvan Zapata is now De Laurentiis and Giuntoli’s top target. The Colombian striker was an afterthought for Maurizio Sarri, but he would be an ideal number 9 in Ancelotti’s system. Atalanta’s president Percassi said that if an offer for around 50/60 million for Zapata he may not be able to say no..

Zapata isn’t the only Atalanta player linked to Napoli. In fact there are reliable reports that he has agreed to personal terms with the partenopei on a three year deal, and considering that he has just one year left on his current contract with Atalanta, they will almost certainly have to either give him a raise to extend him, or sell him this summer to avoid losing him for free in 2020.

 

Mauro Icardi- just 6 months ago many thought his 110 million exit clause was a relative bargain on the transfer market. But after all the recent drama and his inability to score from the run of play since returning to the team (in addition to missing a penalty in the key last match), his value has plummeted.

Icardi has made it clear he wants to stay at Inter, but it remains to be seen if Antonio Conte will allow him to be such a big distraction to the start of his new project. There has been talk of a potential swap for Dybala, which won’t be easy to pull off for a variety of reasons, but a club like Atletico Madrid, who isn’t afraid to invest in reclamation projects, could be an even better fit.

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Edin Dzeko- regardless of what happens with Icardi, the Bosnian striker will almost certainly join Inter who are offering him a three year deal. Dzeko is a perfect fit for Conte’s system and is expected to be an ideal mentor for Lautaro Martinez.

 

Mario Mandzukic- despite signing an extension a few months ago, the Croatian striker will likely leave Juventus this summer. Mandzukic would have almost certainly stayed had Allegri not been relieved of his duties, but with Sarri expected to come, he’s less than an ideal fit in Juventus’ system moving forward. Manduzkic could cash in by playing in China for the next few season.

Andrea Petagna- the former Milan striker had a breakout season by scoring 16 goals for SPAL and could now move to a bigger club. Petagna would be an ideal fit at Roma since his style of play is so similar to Dzeko, in preparation for a potential move, his current club SPAL has already targeted Francesco Caputo, who also scored 16 goals last season playing for Empoli.

 

Serie A Fantasy Team Of The Season

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Samir Handanovic (95 points): Inter led the League in clean sheets (17) and he took advantage of the fact that Wojciech Szczesny (71 points), the starter of the closest team, Juventus (16), was sometimes rested. The Nerazzurri captain had one of his finest seasons, coronated by terrific performances and superhuman saves. In order to fully understand his worth, you do not need to look much further than what happened in the final match against Empoli.

Armando Izzo (75 points): he made the final leap in the season that just ended, showing an unseen level of charisma on top of his usual grit and physicality. Torino had a tremendous year defensively, but he also showed up on set pieces with four goals, which significantly increased his haul. Continue reading

Atalanta set for big spending summer ahead of Champions League challenge

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Atalanta’s top four finish was one of the stories of Serie A 2018-19, with consistency in the final weeks of the campaign ensuring a first ever crack at the Champions League in 2019-20.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s has turned the club into the biggest threat to the established powers in Italian football, and their performances in 2018-19 means there is no dramatic return to Europe’s premier competition for AC Milan, or Champions League regulars AS Roma.

Gasperini is likely to have a decent transfer war chest to spend ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, but he will also have to fight off interest in some of his own key players.

Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Week – Round 38

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Ionut Radu (7 points): the best goalkeepers of the round all ended up conceding at least a goal, so the nod goes to the Genoa one for his ordinary but diligent work in the Fiorentina game, where the Griffon came away with the point they needed.

Franck Kessie (9 points): he was a beast in the SPAL match, as he set up Hakan Calhanoglu’s goal with a pinpoint square ball, found the target with a scorcher and ultimately buried a penalty. He concluded an up-and-down season with his finest performance. Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Round – Atalanta

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It got tense and contentious in the first half, but Atalanta pulled away in the second one in the Sassuolo game and successful defended their third place, deservedly punching their ticket for next year’s Champions League for the first time in their history.

The Goddess approached the game having triumphed in four of the previous five fixtures, drawing only on the road against Juventus, and staying undefeated since late February. While the Bergamaschi were technically the home team, the match was actually played at the Mapei Stadium, the house of Sassuolo and where the Nerazzurri played in Europe, since their arena is undergoing renovations. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 38

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Standings implications: it was a rollercoaster because of the chronological order of the events, but the Champions League race finished in the same way it was entering the round, as Atalanta and Inter were successful and staved off Milan. The Nerazzurri sent Empoli to Serie B as Genoa’s grand plan to wait for the Beneamata to win worked out, as neither them or Fiorentina were interested in attacking in their match. Roma bid farewell to Daniele De Rossi with a W over Parma.

Among the meaningless games, Juventus got beat by Sampdoria, Napoli by Bologna, while Udinese bested Cagliari on the road and Frosinone and Chievo shared the spoils in a nil-nil tie. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 38

Empoli v FC Internazionale - Serie A

Atalanta-Sassuolo: the Goddess survived Juventus’ second half push last week and returned from Turin with a precious point that allowed them to catch Inter and maintain a narrow lead over Milan. They have not lost since February 23rd and triumphed in eight of the following 12 rounds. Sassuolo are right in the middle of the pack but played spoiler last week by drawing with Roma. They have been defeated just once in the last eight matches, tying in five occasions. Josip Ilicic scored at the Stadium after being shut out for few weeks and also their rock Duvan Zapata and Alejandro Gomez will be popular picks since the Neroverdi are not the stingiest bunch. Neither are the Bergamaschi to be honest: the locals have spread the wealth in terms of scoring, but in general Domenico Berardi, Jeremie Boga and Stefano Sensi have been their best contributors in the final months. Hans Hateboer’s suspension makes it clear that Timothy Castagne and Robin Gosens will man the flanks: the former is more interesting since he is listed as a defender and in the midst of a prolific run. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 37

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Sassuolo-Roma: the Neroverdi were handed their first loss since April last week by Torino, even though they certainly put up a fight, despite not being in need of points. The Giallorossi defeated Juventus with a late surge, garnering their fourth win in the last six rounds, tying in the other two and staying close to the fourth spot. Sassuolo have found the target in five of the last six rounds and La Lupa have not been great defensively on the road: they have spread the wealth around since Domenico Berardi was the only one to bag one in multiple matches. Jeremie Boga, Stefano Sensi, Manuel Locatelli and all the defenders contributed scoring-wise: Boga and Sensi have been their most lively contributors in the last few fixtures. The Giallorossi are getting a lot from Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko, while the latest tactical change, if confirmed, would help the likes of Nicolò Zaniolo, Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert, as the last two would see more minutes. Lorenzo Pellegrini is iffy due to a thigh ailment and his absence could allow Bryan Cristante to have a big role.

Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 36

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Atalanta-Genoa: the Bergamaschi keep soaring and bested Lazio in a seminal clash last week, garnering their third win a row and building a little lead over Roma in the race to get the fourth position. They have not been defeated since the beginning of March. The Griffon is coming off two 1-1 ties in a row, versus SPAL and Roma, squandering a massive late opportunity on Sunday. They are four points above the third-to-last position. Suspensions are piling up for Gian Piero Gasperini and he will not be able to count on two defensive centre-pieces, Gianluca Mancini and Andrea Masiello, and more importantly on Alejandro Gomez, which will also not allow him to rotate the squad much ahead of next week’s cup final. Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata will take on an even larger load than usual: the Slovenian genius has been slowed down by some nagging injuries, while the Colombian powerhouse continues to lay hurt on opponents. Continue reading