Uncovering Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi

Cast your mind back to Atalanta’s third strike in their six-goal demolition of Brescia 10 days ago.

Ruslan Malinovskyi received the ball in the left hand channel of the Brescia half, some 35 yards from goal. The Ukrainian dropped the shoulder to sidestep Mattia Viviani, ran into a more central position, pulled back his traction engine of a left foot and unleashed a missile that flew into the bottom corner of Lorenzo Andrenacci’s goal.

It was yet another screamer for the Malinovskyi scrapbook. “I don’t have a bad left foot,” he joked in his first interview for Atalanta last summer. It’s safe to say that Malinovskyi was slightly understating things. Continue reading

Atalanta’s Progress: By the numbers

Last season, Atalanta sent shock-waves throughout Italian football and qualified for the Champions League, finishing ahead of Italy’s traditional giants Inter, Roma, and Milan among others. Along with European football comes the luxury of a pitfall of cash and unique opportunities for growth that Atalanta have taken full advantage of.

Beyond their Champions League cash, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been extremely proactive on the transfer market, selling their players for incredible profits. Dejan Kulusevki, for example. The Swedish international has only played three times for them in his entire career and was sold for nearly forty-five million euros. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.

According to Calcio e Finanza, Atalanta have already cashed forty million euros from the Champions League and could make more depending on their two-legged affair with Valencia. Given recent form, it’s not entirely improbable they progress to the final eight.

While Champions League money is always welcomed, it’s not as sustainable as other sources of revenue for the club. After all, will they qualify for Europe’s elite competition every season? They’re hoping so, but probably not.

As a result, Atalanta have enacted a model wherein they sell their top-performing young players to Italy’s big clubs after breakout seasons. Kulusevski to Juve, Gagliardini to Inter, Cristante and Mancini to Roma, Conti and Kessie to Milan, and the list goes on. In this sense, they maximize their profits. While certain cases will have them thinking they moved on their players a season too early, that’s always better than feeling they sold a player a season too late.

Just ask Torino’s Urbano Cairo. After Andrea Belotti’s breakout season, Torino reportedly got offers ranging between 50 to 75 million euros for their hitman. Cairo played hard-ball, kept Belotti and has since missed out on a unique rebuilding opportunity by turning down those offers. Today, Belotti won’t fetch anywhere near the previously reported price-tags. Atalanta, on the other hand, have a knack for selling players at the right time. In fact, their track record speaks for itself.  Most of their departed players, bar a few, have struggled to recreate their past form at their new clubs.

According to Transfermarkt’s numbers, the Bergamo-based club are set to cash in a further 110 million euros this season, in addition to Musa Barrow’s reported sale of 20M. That’s 130M on players that have either already been replaced or have never featured regularly for them.

With their squad lacking a few additions to take the next step, it will be interesting to see what Atalanta does with that money. Will they abandon their current philosophy and go for more-experienced players in hopes of making the leap alongside Italy’s elite or will they continue with their own model that has worked wonders for them?

If last transfer window was anything to go by, it will arguably be a mix of both, with a particular focus on experienced players. See: Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. As another transfer window beckons, Atalanta’s activity will be worth monitoring. They have the money and a vision: but can they deliver on it?

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On the Rise: Dejan Kulusevski

When Dejan Kulusevski was loaned to Parma from his parent club Atalanta not much was made of the move. Given gli Orobici’s wide array of attacking talents, many thought the young Swede was just another player who would go out on perennial loan spells before being sold. However, since joining Parma, the 19-year-old has established himself as a set starter and is a crucial piece to their front-three. But who exactly is Kulusevski?

Having grown up in Atalanta’s youth ranks after joining from his boyhood club Brommapojkarna, the 19-year-old got a comprehensive footballing education in Bergamo for three years. After all, Atalanta’s youth system is highly regarded and is viewed as one of the best in Italy. Last January, Kulusevski made his debut for Gian Piero Gasperini’s men in a 5-0 drubbing of Frosinone. The 19-year-old would make another two appearances before the season came to a close.

Given his lack of playing time and gli Orobici’s depth in the final third, Atalanta decided it was best to loan him out to Parma. With I Crociati, Kulusevski has been able to play regular minutes and has impressed this season. Typically fielded on the right-wing alongside Roberto Inglese and Gervinho, the 19-year-old is able to combine his pace and keen eye for goal to devastating effect.

In many ways, Roberto D’Aversa’s counter-attacking system suits Kulusevski’s qualities and makes the most of his talents. Given his success in this system, it’s only a matter of time before Gasperini calls him back and adds him to his arsenal of weapons.

In addition to being a goalscoring threat, Kulusevski has been Parma’s main creator this season, averaging 2.1 key passes per game. Given the freedom to roam between the lines and filter in centrally, the Parma man is able to make the most of his vision. After all, when he first started his career, he was initially an attacking midfielder.

In his seven appearances this season, Kulusevski is already up to three assists and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Moreover, he’s currently responsible for over 30 per cent of his side’s key passes and expected assists, highlighting his importance to D’Aversa.

In the most recent international break, the young forward played as a striker in U21 Sweden’s 5-0 win. From a central position, Kulusevski punished the Icelandic defence, continuing his impressive form and notching a brace. In the past, he also represented Macedonia at the youth levels but eventually chose Sweden.

Currently, Parma sit in 12th place on nine points and will be taking on Genoa after the international break comes to a close. I Grifoni have struggled this season and will be a good opportunity for Kulusevski to keep the positive streak going.

Beyond this season, Kulusevski appears primed for a return to his parent club Atalanta and join Gasperini’s free-scoring side. Given his qualities, the young Swedish international seems a match made in heaven with Gasperini.

As it is the case for any young talent, it’s all about maintaining this level of play beyond a few games. If his recent displays are anything to go by, it shouldn’t be a problem for Kulusevski.

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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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Atalanta On Course for Historic Season

After their 2-1 victory over Fiorentina, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta qualified for the Coppa Italia final; a feat they last accomplished over 23 years ago. You would have to go back all the way to 1963 since the last time gli Orobici hoisted the trophy. Since Gasperini’s arrival, Atalanta have played some of the most exciting football on the peninsula, and are finally being rewarded for it. Despite losing key players every other season, Atalanta remain unfazed, and continue to play their progressive football.

In addition to their impressive cup run, Atalanta have been on a tear in league play as well, scoring 66 goals thus far; just one behind league leaders Juventus. Duvan Zapata, Josip Ilicic and Alejandro Gomez have proven to be one of the league’s most lethal trios, tormenting defences at will.

As of right now, the Bergamo based outfit are tied for fourth place with Milan on 56 points, with just five games to play. Should they claim their second ever Coppa Italia and qualify for next season’s Champions League, the 2018-2019 season will undoubtedly go down as one of Atalanta’s most successful seasons in their history.

Let’s have a look and see just how feasible this is for Italy’s high-flyers. In their next two games, Gasperini’s men take on relegation threatened Udinese, and Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio. While Atalanta should have no issues dispatching Udinese, Lazio will represent a different challenge altogether.

Inzaghi’s men will have their eyes set on the top four, and are one of Atalanta’s direct competitors for top four football. In the past, Lazio have closed their seasons strongly, however, have typically failed at the final hurdle. Atalanta, on the other hand, are new to the top four race, but haven’t shown their inexperience thus far going toe-to-toe with the likes of Juventus, Roma, and Napoli among others.

In their last three games, Gasperini’s men will then take on Genoa, Juventus, and Sassuolo. All three games represent challenges of their own, but if this season is anything to go by, they will be up for the challenge. In their first encounter this season, Atalanta succumbed to Genoa by a score of 3-1, while they held the league champions Juventus to a draw. When they met Juventus in the Coppa Italia, by contrast, gli Orobici made light work of the bianconeri and prevailed 3-0.

One thing that will play in Atalanta’s favour is their opponents’ motivation, or lack thereof, rather. Genoa are completely safe from the drop, while Juventus have already claimed the Scudetto, and will be experimenting with their lineup. The same goes for Sassuolo, who much like Genoa, are more than safe. As a result, Atalanta’s hunger could see them prevail. 

As for the Coppa Italia, Gasperini’s men will take on Lazio. While it will undoubtedly be a difficult affair, Atalanta have proven they fear no club this season, and could go toe-to-toe with just about anybody in Italy. As a result, winning the Coppa Italia is far more than just a pipe dream for the bergamaschi. 

Gasperini and Atalanta will be happy with this season no matter how it ends, but it would be nice for their efforts to be rewarded with a trophy and Champions League football to boot. Bar none, they have played the best football in Italy, and would be worthy representatives in Europe next year. The ball is now in their court, and if this season is anything to go by, they’ll likely lump it up the field to Zapata, and score.

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Federico Chiesa: Italy’s Latest Controversial Superstar

ACF Fiorentina v AC Milan - Serie A

Italian football are no strangers to their misunderstood and controversial superstars. Before Mario Balotelli emerged on the scene, there was Antonio Cassano. And before them came Roma’s iconic bad-boy Francesco Totti. While calcio’s latest exploit, Federico Chiesa, has done nowhere near enough to steal the headlines alongside these players, the Fiorentina winger is attracting attention for all the wrong reasons at the moment.

Since emerging through the ranks at Fiorentina, Chiesa has established himself as one of Italy’s elite talents and will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri setup moving forward. Comfortable with playing on either wing, the 21-year-old has arguably developed into la Viola’s most important player in the final third, and has even added end product to his game this season.

Deploying him alongside Giovanni Simeone, and Luis Muriel, Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli has been able to get the most out of his talented winger. Currently, Chiesa has scored five goals and registered three assists in league play, all-while propelling Fiorentina into a race for the Europa League and deep into the Coppa Italia – a competition in which, alone, he’s got six goals.

Outside of his ability to find the back of the net, Chiesa has also been effective at feeding his teammates. At the moment, the Italian international is averaging 1.8 key passes per game and has been a constant menace on the counter attack with his impressive turn of pace.

Despite his recent exploits, the press surrounding Chiesa has never been worse. While the 21-year-old is capable of the extravagant on the ball, he’s also developed a reputation for diving, and manipulating the referees. If it were a one-off occurrence, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, just this season alone Chiesa’s antics have infuriated the masses, and he’s been labelled as enemy number one from rival fan-bases.

Most recently, Chiesa undeservedly earned Fiorentina another penalty shot, this time coming in their Coppa Italia clash against Atalanta. It would inevitably prove to be the difference as La Viola earned a 3-3 draw going into the second leg. Earlier this season, the Fiorentina winger Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini had some select words for Chiesa after the game.

“Chiesa? The penalty was a farce. It’s an episode that hurts the player’s reputation more than anything,” said Gasperini to Quotidiano.net. 

With a number of suitors, both abroad and within Italy, heavily after Chiesa including Roma and Tottenham Hotspur among others, the young winger will have to curb this bad habit. Otherwise, it may prevent him from reaching the very top.

There’s no denying Chiesa’s talent and versatility in the final third, however, clubs will think twice before making him their marquee signing if his diving antics persist. As Chiesa is about to enter a crucial stage in his career – a point where many Italian talents in the past have tailed off – it’s time for Chiesa to put the theatrics behind him once and for all and put his footballing development first. If not, calcio fans may be witnessing Domenico Berardi 2.0; a scary prospect indeed.

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Atalanta and Sampdoria: Serie A’s Party Crashers

Every season there’s one team in Serie A that pushes above their weight and vies for European football among the league’s elite. With Lazio, Milan and Roma all fighting for top four this year, they all seem to have forgotten about Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta and Marco Giampaolo’s Sampdoria. Both sides have been in excellent form playing impressive football and have now entered the Champions League race without making too much of a fuss. Right now, the five teams are separated by a mere three points going into a crucial stage of the season.

Led by the eternal Fabio Quagliarella, who has now scored in 11 consecutive games equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s record in the process, Sampdoria find themselves just two points back behind fourth place Milan. Giampaolo has been able to get the most out of his men in his preferred ‘Christmas Tree’ formation (4-3-1-2) and has since attracted interest from the peninsula’s elite for his good work. Insisting on possession football and building patiently, the blucerchiati have dominated the opposition at times, and have proven to be a match for any team in the league.

While Quagliarella is the one bagging the goals, the impressive work done by midfield dynamos Dennis Praet and Karol Linetty should not go unnoticed. Juventus loanee Emil Audero has also manned the sticks wonderfully in his debut season in Serie A, especially with the veteran presence of Lorenzo Tonelli in front of him.

Atalanta, on the other hand, have played some explosive football this season and lead the league in scoring with 47 goals. In fact, gli Orobici have found the back of the net 16 times in their last four league games, three of which coming most recently in their comeback against Roma on the weekend. With Duvan Zapata flanked by Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic, Gasperini’s side posses arguably one of the world’s most underrated front-lines. Zapata is currently on 15 goals on the season and has now scored in Atalanta’s last nine games in all competitions.

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Serie A Game of the Week – Round 36: Lazio vs Atalanta

 

lazioatalanta2

The most exhilarating game of the weekend was probably the back and forth between Genoa and Fiorentina, but since it was already thoroughly broken down by Chloe here, let’s dive into another pretty amusing one: Lazio-Atalanta, which was also one of the few fixtures where there was something at stake for both teams.

The two clubs arrived at this game in high spirits, riding three-game winning streaks. Simone Inzaghi had the task of replacing his injured star Ciro Immobile and picked the easiest fix, the backup Felipe Caicedo. After some gamesmanship in the pre-game presser, Gian Piero Gasperini fielded both Remo Freuler and Bryan Cristante, kept Josip Ilicic on the bench and chose José-Luis Palomino for the suspended Mattia Caldara.  Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Week: Atalanta

atalanta

There were three candidates for team of the week in the last Serie A, with Torino and Juventus scoring multiple goals and keeping the clean sheet, but the shout-out goes to Atalanta, which did it on the road, with a larger result than the Bianconeri and against a tougher opponent than Benevento.

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Gasperini should not be sacked despite Derby defeat

Genoa-Empoli Campionato Serie A Tim 2014-2015

The Stadio Luigi Ferraris offers no place to hide. Its benches located opposite to the tunnel, the only option is to face the music. For Gian Piero Gasperini the tune was sombre as he trudged, despairingly, having seen his side fall just short in the Derby della Lanterna.

“Am I at risk?” Gasperini considered in the post-match interviews. “It’s not for me to say.” But it’s a fair question. Genoa’s loss against city rivals Sampdoria was their third Derby defeat in the past four. It was also a fifth loss in succession, six when including the humiliating Coppa Italia elimination against third tier Alessandria. The defeat left Genoa straddling the relegation zone. “Clearly that is an alarm bell,” he accepted.

However, there was something in the Grifoni in their near-comeback which suggested the situation can be rectified. Gasperini implored that his side “never stopped playing” as they very nearly turned a three goal deficit into a dramatic draw.

Genoa went into the Round 18 clash with the joint second worst attack, notching only 15 strikes. Yet Leonardo Pavoletti continued his purple patch amid the recent gloom, almost single-handedly dragging the Rossoblu back into the contest with his late brace. It took his League tally to seven in only ten appearances.

It’s no secret Genoa are on the hunt for attacking options this January. Suso made his debut – as did midfielder Luca Rigoni – having arrived on loan from Milan. The Grifoni have also been linked with loan deals for Giuseppe Rossi, Alessio Cerci and ex-player Stephan El Shaarawy. Shorn of their top three strikers from last season, it was always going to be tough. Perhaps this month they can rectify the situation.

Gasperini, who led Genoa to sixth last term, may even have left smiling had Darko Lazovic not spurned a gilt-edged chance. Down 3-1 at the time, it proved a costly miss. As did the earlier error which allowed Roberto Soriano to open the scoring. As the tactician later said, his side are paying the price for errors and being forced to fight back too often.

Oddly enough it’s the manner of the defeat which offers hope. Genoa can build on the spirit shown and then use the transfer market to see them steer clear of relegation danger and Gasperini the wrath of President Enrico Preziosi. But with such poor recent form, Genoa must act quickly.