The 62-year-old manager has ushered in a new era at Atalanta with his no-holds-barred philosophy…
But playing away from familiar conditions has not hampered their debut run in Europe’s elite club football competition. And the credit goes to a certain 62-year-old manager Gian Piero Gasperini, who considers himself to be the Alex Ferguson of Bergamo.
He had a nervy start to his time at Atalanta in 2016. But soon, the young squad took to the coach’s unconventional 3-4-2-1 formation and they ended up finishing fourth in Seria A. In the following season, they crashed out of the Europa League in the Round of 32 against Borussia Dortmund and finished seventh in the league which prompted most pundits to opine that Gasperini had reached the ceiling.
But the silver-haired manager was adamant ‘to prove’ that his side were not a one season wonder. Without the overwhelming burden of history and expectation, he continued to tinker with a style that would have the capability to rip open defences, even without throwing caution to the wind.
He chooses to field a three-man backline with two box-to-box midfielders in front of them. The duo would be flanked by two wing-backs whose primary job would be to stretch the opposition defence and utilise the width of the pitch to send in the crosses. Whereas, in a front-three, one player would shoulder the responsibility to string the midfield and attack, one would be deployed as a supporting striker and leading the lines will be an out-and-out target man.
Their recent success has made them the scavenging ground for the financially mightier outfits but Gasperini’s insistence on philosophy rather than individual brilliance has ensured that their wins have kept on rumbling. The likes of Franck Kessie, Gianluca Mancini have all moved for greener pastures and fatter pay cheques but roping in players like Duvan Zapata, Mario Pasalic, who have seamlessly fitted in to the coach’s operational methods have made up for the talent drainage.
They have the 13th highest wage bill in Serie A but have scored the most number of goals (70), way ahead than league leaders Juventus (48) and heavy weights Inter Milan (49). Thrice they have scored seven goals in a league match, most recently in their last domestic matchday against Lecce (7-2).
Their first leg triumph against Valencia should not be considered as an upset as the Nerazurris have done the league double over Roma and have trounced Milan 5-0 in the current campaign. It will be an uphill task for Los Che to overturn the 4-1 scoreline, as they must not only score a minimum of three goals but also ensure that their free-scoring opposition fails to breach their fort. Hans Hateboer and Josip Ilicic were nothing less than prolific during their first encounter and Zapata’s recent hat-trick against Lecce will definitely add to the headache of Andre Celades.
As things stand, Gasperini’s side already have a foot in the quarter-finals and nothing short of a miracle can stop them from progressing to the quarter-finals.