GEWISS STADIUM (Bergamo) – The more things change, the more they stay the same; or so they say. That old Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr saying couldn’t be more applicable to Atalanta and their recent form under Gian Piero Gasperini. By beating Sampdoria 2-0 on Matchday 20 of the 2022/23 Serie A season, they again showed signs of their 2019/20 best, when they went within a couple of minutes of reaching the Champions League semi-final.
Coming into Matchday 20, no team in Europe’s top-ten leagues – however Opta decides on what those are – had scored more than the Bergamaschi since the beginning of 2023. Atalanta had scored two against Spezia, two more against Bologna, eight against Salernitana, and three against Juventus – that statistic doesn’t even take their 5-2 win over Spezia in the Coppa Italia into consideration.
Numbers like those make it easy to say that Atalanta are back to their free-scoring and goal-hungry best, however different they may look with a glance at their XI and the profile of players leading their attack.
Different strengths, same principles
When Joakim Maehle leapt to head home their opener against Sampdoria, on the end of a cross from Hans Hateboer, it was hard not to think back to the days of Robin Gosens galloping towards the box from that same left wing-back position to often meet a cross from the Dutchman. When Atalanta were at their best before, wing-backs played a huge role. Gosens on the left, Hateboer on the right, and Timothy Castagne filling in on either side when one was absent.
Gosens‘ exit and a dramatic fall-off from Hateboer had seen Gasperini’s side considerably weakened in arguably the most important part of his system, but there are signs of those struggles now being shaken off.
Maehle hasn’t always looked at home in Bergamo, but scoring in back-to-back Serie A outings should help him find the confidence to kick on and finally replace the Gosens-shaped void in the team.
Even Hateboer is rediscovering some form. He scored against Spezia in that 5-2 win, he provided the assist for Maehle’s goal against Samp, and he has had an extra yard of pace return to his game after spending almost a year operating at what seemed like 50% of his pre-injury self.
For Gasperini’s system to work, the wing-backs need to be on it, and Atalanta are seeing that again be the case.
Lookman leads the way
Ademola Lookman, Player of the Week in Matchday 19, is doing things that few before him have done, and has himself in really esteemed company as a consequence. Second to only fellow Nigerian Victor Osimhen in the race to be crowned Serie A top goalscorer and already into double figures for the campaign, he has joined only Samuel Eto’o and Osimhen as the only African players to have netted ten or more goals in the opening 19 matchdays.
Beyond goals, though, his importance in setting the pace from the front is clear. He has a directness that Jeremie Boga doesn’t always possess, and his first thought always appears to be to find the fastest route to goal. While vastly different, there’s something similar in what he is to Boga to what Papu Gomez was to Josip Ilicic.
While nobody in Bergamo will be getting too carried away with wins over bottom-half opposition, Atalanta look to be moving up the gears at just the right time, after a slight dip had many forgetting their excellent start to the season.
Serie A’s Champions League race is likely to go down to the wire, and on this form it’s hard to imagine that Atalanta won’t be strong contenders to take one of the three places on offer behind Napoli.