Football Italia’s Chief Correspondent Richard Hall looks at Atalanta’s impressive form and asks, can they seriously qualify for the Champions League?
The moment the final whistle blew in San Siro, was the moment that Atalanta’s impossible dream suddenly looked real. The 0-0 draw with Inter had been less than inspiring, but the point was enough to take them into joint fourth spot. Now, the Champions League seemed possible, especially as the other contenders all conspired to slip up. There are certainly still some hurdles to jump before the finishing post looms, but their destiny is now largely in their own hands.
Just how big an achievement getting Atalanta to the Champions League would be is something Gian Piero Gasperini doesn’t want to contemplate right now, but he may soon have to. “We need a few more weekends before we can start to believe,” the Coach said after their resolute performance against Inter, achieved even without star striker Duvan Zapata.
The game itself showcased just how well Gasperini has done this term, as he approached the fixture with exactly the correct approach. In the corresponding game, he had attacked Inter with pace from the off and the hostile crowd in Bergamo helped push his team on to demolish the Nerazzurri 4-1.
This time it was a different scenario, as a resurgent Milanese team were viewed as a threat, especially as the visitors were without Duvan Zapata. The Coach’s defensive approach worked, and the point sees them face a tough shoot out with Roma, Milan, Lazio and Torino, who are all separated by three points.
Atalanta captain Papu Gomez is certainly not holding back, pointing out that although the objective is the Europa League, why not aim higher? Milan had fallen to Juventus the night before and Lazio and Torino had both drawn their games. Only Roma had managed to take all three points against Sampdoria, but their recent form, like that of Milan, offers up more questions than answers.
When looking at the upcoming fixtures for Le Dea, there again is reason to be cheerful. Whilst it is true, they still have Napoli and Juventus to come, it is almost certain that ‘The Old Lady’ will have sewn up the league title by then and whilst the Partenopei look to have almost guaranteed second place, they are also in poor form.
The rest of the games are winnable for Gasperini’s men, as they will face relegation threatened Empoli and Udinese whilst also taking on Genoa and Sassuolo on the final day. Perhaps the biggest task will be facing Lazio on May 5, a game that could have a monumental effect on where the final Champions League place goes.
With the return of their hitman, they will certainly be a match for anyone, as Duvan Zapata’s superb season has given them a potent edge that has seen Bergamo become a fortress. The team are of course still in the Coppa Italia and have a good chance of making the Final after drawing the first leg 3-3 with Fiorentina. If they can make the Final in Rome against Milan or Lazio, then this could top off what has been a fantastic campaign.
What may have seemed like an impossible dream is becoming a reality for Gasperini and could eventually see the question asked, just how big an achievement is it if Le Dea qualify for Europe’s elite competition? Just how that will affect them in the summer will also be a problem, as many clubs will be circling around the talented squad and the Coach himself, but that’s not a worry for now. Instead the remaining months of the season will be watched with interest as this attacking and exciting team verge on embarrassing Serie A’s bigger boys.