Atalanta Season Preview: La Dea ready for Champions League debut
Zapata celebrates one of many goals (Getty Images/Emilio Andreoli)

Atalanta Season Preview: La Dea ready for Champions League debut

Atalanta surprised many by reaching the Champions League places last season. Can they build on that success? 

Gerry Johnston

The 26th of May 2019 will go down as one of the most historic days in the history of Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio. The club who were formed in 1907 qualified for Europe's most prestigious competition for the first time in their existence and as such will be gearing up to take on the continent's best.

Last season, the club played arguably the most entertaining football, not just in Italy, but all of Europe. That style, transferred into substance, as besides finishing in the top four, they reached the Coppa Italia final for the first time since 1996 and despite a loss to Lazio, their free-flowing attacking football throughout the run, will live long in the memory.

The only blot, if you can call it that on their campaign, was being knocked out of the Europa League play-offs by FC Copenhagen on penalties after both games ended scoreless.

Transfer Business Overview

So far the Lombardians have managed to hold on to the majority of their best players, with defender Gianluca Mancini's loan move to Roma the only exception. Having said that, with the Serie A Mercato open until the 2nd September, they will need to be wary of any late bids. 

In addition, to which, the club was able to bring in €60 million to the coffers, with the confirmation of the sales of Bryan Cristante, Franck Kessie and Andrea Petagna after the trio's moves to Roma, Milan and Spal were made permanent.

They have so far re-invested half of that money with some smart acquisitions. Top of the list is Colombian striker Luis Muriel. The 28-year old has previous Calcio experience with the likes of Udinese, Lecce, Sampdoria and Fiorentina and it is hoped that he will complement the club's already exciting forward line. 

In the middle, Ukrainian Rusian Malinovskyi has been brought in from Genk for just under €14 million and 21-year old centre back Marco Vernier from Serie B's Cittadella. An intriguing player that will be appearing at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia is that of experienced defender Martin Skrtel.

The 34-year old signed a one year contract after signing for a free transfer from Turkish giants Fenerbahce. The Slovakian has appeared in 87 games in European competition and his knowledge of high intense continental battles should give this inexperienced team a calming influence in the dressing room.

Manager : Gian Piero Gasperini 

"Gasp" had been linked with several clubs following his success at Atalanta, but just three days after the campaign ended, the Piedmont born tactician was confirmed as the manager. The 61-year old extended his contract until 2022 with a salary increased to a reported €2.2 million.

The former Genoa and Inter manager will be planning his team to compete on all three fronts this year and go as far as possible. As evidenced by past campaigns, Gasperini takes every competition seriously, rotating where he feels necessary and is not one to sacrifice one for another. His 3-4-1-2 formation has been a joy to see in Italy and he will be hoping to do the same in the game's biggest club competition as well.

Player to Watch: Duvan Zapata

Having been bounced around three previous clubs in Italy, Zapata has finally found a stable home in Bergamo. At 28, he is in the prime of his career and now an established international with Colombia, he will be leading the Atalanta assault on Europe's best teams.

Having played in a trident attack together with Papu Gomez and Josep Ilicic, he has been joined by compatriot Muriel and that could very well see both men rotated at the number nine position, as the club manage three competitions.

One for the future: Musa Barrow 

Having joined La Dea straight from his home nation of Gambia, the now 20-year old has made steady progress in Italian football. He has so far garnered eight goals in 43 appearances, following on from an impressive 14 strikes in just 19 games with the youth side. 

His best position is through the middle, using his pace, dribbling ability and cat-like movements to throw opposition defenders into confusion. He can also link the play well and provides a perfect player off the bench for Gasperini when defenders are tiring and also to rotate along the front-line. 

He has so far been used as such, as an impact player, but with such a heavy workload on the horizon for Atalanta this year, the manager may just give him some more minutes to help him gain experience.

Predicted Finish

Given that this is the club's and most significantly this squad's first jolt at Champions League football, it will be interesting how the Orobici manages to contend on three fronts. Their squad, as solid and spectacular as it is right now, needs further improvements to be ready for the rigours of what's ahead. This was a point alluded to by Gasperini. 

With all the teams around them investing quite substantially in their teams, Atalanta will need to do the same, so as to not be left stagnated and un-prepared. 

If they don't suffer any major departures between now and when the transfer window closes on the 2nd of September, add a few more pieces to their puzzle, there is no reason why they can't keep their place in the top four and make a decent run in the cup competitions.

Vijay Rahaman