Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi (Verona): Gian Piero Gasperini won’t have been blown away by what he saw from his Atalanta side in their narrow 1-0 win away at Hellas Verona in Serie A on Sunday evening. But the Nerazzurri boss can take something from the knowledge that he got his substitutions spot on and they were, ultimately, what won his side the game.
Atalanta’s XI in Verona raised some eyebrows before kick-off had even arrived. Memeh Okoli’s inclusion wasn’t that much of a shock, but that he was including in a side that also featured first-time starters Brandon Soppy and Ademola Lookman wouldn’t have been predicted by many.
Lookman, playing behind Duvan Zapata and with Ruslan Malinovskyi to his right, struggled to have the same impact that he managed against Sampdoria from the bench.
The newcomer didn’t have the same space to exploit that he was afforded against a Samp side trying to overturn a one-goal deficit on the opening weekend. His passing was off, his movement not quite aligned with his teammates, and he wasn’t helped by a fellow new arrival in Soppy playing on his same left flank and looking every bit as uncomfortable there as Lookman himself was.
For two new signings though, it’s hard to demand too much more, particularly in a system that demands so much and takes the work that it does to perfect and settle into.
Gasperini’s changes won the game for Atalanta at Verona
Luis Muriel and Ederson came off the bench at the break, with Lookman and Soppy being withdrawn. That saw a shift from Atalanta’s usual 3-4-2-1 setup to having them play with four at the back, while Muriel occupied the left wing, and Ederson was playing higher than he might have expected to when he joined Atalanta this summer.
The Brazilian was lively and on it from the first minute. He single-handedly led a counterattack that saw him drag a shot just wide, and moments later Teun Koopmeiners got the game’s only goal.
With Muriel, Malinovskyi, Ederson, and Zapata to concern themselves with, Verona’s defence had become stretched and preoccupied. That allowed Koopmeiners to collect the ball in the centre circle, and take it forward a few strides without anybody daring to close him down.
Approaching the edge of the box, he arrowed a shot into the bottom corner and did what Ederson had come so close to doing moments earlier.
Things stayed open from there, and the game played out as though it were in stoppage time for the final 30 minutes or so.
Joakim Maehle came on for an exhausted Zapata late on as Atalanta slotted back into their usual and familiar setup, removing the free space on the flanks that Verona had been looking to exploit.
With seven points from three games to start the season, Gasperini and Atalanta left Verona pleased on Sunday, more so as their only two dropped points came against reigning Serie A champions AC Milan last time out.
On Sunday, Gasperini can be particularly happy knowing that the changes he made at half time and throughout the second half were exactly what the game needed when they were made, and they ultimately saw Atalanta leave the Bentegodi with three points pocketed.