Three takeaways from Sassuolo 0-2 Atalanta: De Ketelaere finds a place to shine

Charles De Ketelaere's debut for Atalanta at Sassuolo would have left AC Milan fans wondering what went wrong last season, but it's clear that the Belgian is in an environment wherein he can thrive under Gian Piero Gasperini.

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MAPEI STADIUM (Reggio Emilia): It looked for a while as though things just weren’t going to go Charles De Ketelaere‘s way – again – as he made his Atalanta debut from the bench away at Sassuolo on Matchday 1 of the 2023/24 Serie A season, and then he finally got the rub of the green to score the game’s opening goal.

Atalanta were the better side from the off and throughout the first half, despite going in goalless at the break and finding themselves frustrated in the final third. It was never certain that the points would be returning to Bergamo with them, though, until Nadir Zortea struck a fine second for La Dea in stoppage time to seal a 2-0 win.

Signings need to bide their time under Gasperini

It didn’t come as a great surprise to see mostly familiar faces in the Atalanta XI as they set up for their first game of the season, even considering the number of good additions they have made over the summer. Sead Kolasinac was the only new arrival to start on a hot evening in Reggio Emilia, much to the frustration of many neutrals tuning in.

Sead Kolasinac for Atalanta against Sassuolo. [@Atalanta_BC]

But that’s what Gian Piero Gasperini tends to do. A year earlier, with Atalanta kicking off their 2022/23 campaign at Sampdoria, all eyes were on new signing Ademola Lookman, and eyebrows were raised when he was named on the bench. He had to wait an hour to get a run, and would then go on to score the second goal in a 2-0 win on the road to open the season. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

De Ketelaere didn’t have to wait quite as long a year later, coming on after the break, but he did need a similar timeframe of 30 minutes or so to get his first goal for the club. Gianluca Scamacca came on after an hour, and Michel Adopo was introduced to help see things out at the end.

De Ketelaere has a place in Gasperini’s Atalanta

Nadir Zortea celebrates scoring for Atalanta with Marten de Roon, Berat Djimsiti and Charles De Ketelaere. (Facebook: Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio)

From almost the first minute that De Ketelaere stepped onto the pitch at the Mapei, it was clear that he has more of a place in this Atalanta side than he ever had at AC Milan, where he often looked more than just a little lost.

His new teammates constantly sought him, and he operated at ease between the right flank and central channel, roaming around in a manner that no Atalanta player has since Josip Ilicic. That’s not said to pile pressure or increase the expectations on the Belgian and what he can do in Bergamo, but it was swiftly apparent that he is going to have a role to play in Gasperini‘s team.

His goal – which proved to be the winner – will get the headlines, but he had come close twice before his header edged over the line. First heading over the crossbar with a chance he should have put away, then hitting the crossbar from the edge of the box, there was a feeling that De Ketelaere might just not ever have even an ounce of luck.

Atalanta finally have a squad, not just an XI

Charles De Ketelaere in action for Atalanta. [@Atalanta_BC]

At times last season, it was clear that Atalanta are operating on a different level to almost every other top-half side. As the season drew closer to its end, and injuries increasingly took their toll, Gasperini was often left naming half the number of permitted substitutes and many of those on the bench were unknown even to fans of the Nerazzurri.

This year, though, that looks to have changed. Although Gasperini still claims that his squad is not yet complete, there can be no arguing that it is a lot healthier than it was 12 months earlier, with the likes of Luis Muriel, club captain Rafael Toloi and new signing Mitchel Bakker unused substitutes in Emilia-Romagna.

Marten de Roon presented with a special shirt for his 300th Atalanta appearance. (Facebook: Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio)

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