After squeezing through to the knockout stages, Atalanta’s Champions League debut seems to be gathering pace. After a stellar performance at home by the hugely talented Italian side, they seem poised to go through.
It would take a feat of epic proportions for Valencia to overturn the 4-1 advantage and with Spain’s health ministry announcing that the return leg at the Mestalla will be played behind closed doors due to coronavirus, there will be no crowd to spur on an unlikely comeback.
After losing their initial three games in their Champions League debut, the Italians find themselves in a surprisingly comfortable position.
Atalanta seem to be peaking at just the right moment and their Champion’s League away leg comes on the back of the 2-7 mauling they dished out to Lecce, a Duvan Zapata hat-trick and another fine display by Josip Ilicic helping to make sure Atalanta’s debut in the Champion’s League won’t be their only campaign as far as the domestic front goes.
Despite the disruption hindering Italian football currently at the hands of coronavirus, Atalanta’s maiden campaign in Europe has come as a welcome surprise and helped highlight the ideas of those touting the current Atalanta squad as a golden generation of sorts.
Atalanta’s success relies on a finely balanced team setup that does not focus on star names, despite their harboring a good few currently. There is a transition throughout important moments in their games in terms of the team’s formation, wing-backs helping to propel the side forward and gradually making up a four-man midfield. Hans Hateboer utilized his position on the right side of the field perfectly in Atalanta’s win against Valencia.
As Atalanta sense their moment their five at the back quickly shift to a three and Hans Hateboer and Robin Goosens join the midfield duo, what we then see is an injection of pace as play transitions. Alejandro “Papu” Gomez’s quick feet, balance and agility help to deliver that injection of pace, and with Ilicic’s precise passing Zapata is rarely starved of opportunities.
It was this very quick build-up play that helped ensure Atalanta’s strong performance against Valencia. Their away leg will require something different, a more composed showing, and the Italians know they must deliver.