Let’s reflect for a minute about a team that have defied all the odds this season, a side with a traditionally abundant youth sector, that play exciting football and attack in numbers no matter the opposition.
You’re thinking of Ajax, right?
There’s no doubt that the Dutch side have deservedly taken the plaudits this term as they came so close to reaching the Champions League final with their fearless approach.
However, there is another team playing exactly the same way, and the success they are enjoying in the current campaign is merely a continuation of the work that started in 2016/17, following the appointment of Coach Gian Piero Gasperini. He took the decision to give the side’s young players a chance very early in his reign, went on to oversee a club record points total the following season.
This term, down-to-earth club owner Antonio Percassi has reinvested money from the sales of home-grown players in those who are slightly more experienced and – working together with Gasperini – those moves have paid off in spectacular style.
On Wednesday night, the Bergamo-based outfit will take on Lazio in the Coppa Italia final. Atalanta have only ever lifted this trophy once, back in 1963, yet they are very much the favourites to triumph in Rome. Such a sentiment is entirely a result of their recent reputation, as La Dea have traditionally been regarded as a small club, very much in the shadows of the two Milan giants who reside just 37 miles away from them.
A look at squad list does not reveal many famous names. Some may know Alejandro “Papu” Gomez after he scored a superb goal from outside the box at home to Everton in the Europa League, but fellow forwards Josip Ilicic and Duván Zapata are hardly household names. Yet together, they have scored a combined 49 goals in all competitions this season, in addition to a total of 24 assists as Atalanta have even outscored league winners Juventus in domestic action.
Gasperini has drawn out every last drop of talent from the players at his disposal, the goal tally if his forward line a result of ensuring every single one of his XI work tirelessly to play a whole team role. That he has achieved this consistently throughout the 46 matches played already in 2018/19 is nothing short of miraculous, and can only have been manifested through a collective positive attitude.
“Since Gasperini arrived, our mentality has changed,” Captain Gomez revealed to reporters ahead of Wednesday’s final. “Before we only thought about staying up. Now we’re playing for much more important objectives. Atalanta are one of the best clubs in Italy, but perhaps without Gasperini none of this would’ve happened.”
In truth, all of his players speak to the press this way, which is testament to how the Coach has removed any mental limits they had previously imposed on themselves. The tenacity of the squad has been shown time and time again as they fail to even flinch at going a goal behind, their confidence in their own abilities so clear to see.
“This team is extraordinary in terms of mentality,” the boss revealed after a 2-1 win over Genoa last weekend put them on course to qualify for the Champions League. “The rest comes later, tactically, physically, but the psychological level is so important. I see every fear and doubt disappear in that dressing room and we focus entirely on winning the game.”
Just 10 days ago, Atalanta demonstrated this as they went 1-0 down away to Coppa Italia rivals Lazio shortly after kick-off in a Serie A match. Just 19 minutes later, they had put themselves back on level terms, and pulled off a fine performance to win 3-1 by the end of the second half. This should only serve to further enhance their belief that they can do so again on Wednesday, and that they will have some silverware to show for their incredible efforts over the last three seasons.