The problem with over-achieving once, is that it becomes the norm. That’s the challenge facing Atalanta as they rebuild for a new Serie A season
The biggest surprise package of the last Serie A season will try their best to be one of the premier powers in the next Europa League competition. Atalanta, lead by coach Gian Piero Gasperini, stunned the world of Italian football in a tremendous campaign, and want to impress in Europe after reaching the continental competition for the first time since 1991.
But it won’t be easy. Firstly, a lack of experience in the squad could be a real problem. But more importantly, Atalanta risk missing a lot of the players that reached that incredible fourth spot in Serie A. The transfer window is ongoing and it is a ruthless place for a side like Atalanta. To cash in, the Bergamo outfit have had to sell. But doing so means dismantling a wonderful side, with the uncertainty over the new players that are being brought in.
The club sold Roberto Gagliardini to Inter back in January. Then Franck Kessie joined AC Milan at the start of the summer. Next on the cards was the transfer of Andrea Conti to Milan, as well as probable moves of the captain Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez to Lazio, Andrea Petagna also to Lazio (with several other clubs interested), Mattia Caldara and Leonardo Spinazzola to Juventus. This is almost the whole team.
So it is almost impossible to say what Atalanta can really do in Europe next season. Was it the players that made the team so good, or the coach’s work in moulding the squad so well that made the players look better? This is the real dilemma. A bit of both probably, with Gasperini who has everything needed to rebuild a solid team even for the upcoming season.
Having brought in Danish youngster Andreas Cornelius, the club is working to find those cheap deals to give Gasperini a base to work on, as well as integrating youth products, which is what made the difference last year. Other young prospects are there to impress, and with the slightly older ones leaving, there will be space to show their qualities.
The Europa League won’t be easy, and dealing with a game on Thursday as well as the Serie A at the weekend will be tough for a club that isn’t used to such a rigorous schedule. Everyone in Italy saw what happened to Sassuolo, who reached their first ever European spot two-years-ago and were then quickly knocked out of the Europa League and subsequently struggled in the domestic league this year. It’s a learning curve.
The same could happen to Atalanta, even though the club is historically slightly more experienced than Sassuolo. But just as Atalanta truly impressed over the past 10 months, the same could happen in Europe. Nobody should underestimate La Dea and their will to surprise.
Holding on to at least some of their main stars, like Papu Gomez or Caldara, could be the real difference between a mediocre season and another very enjoyable one, but either way, the club will build a team that will want to do their best, and with Gasperini, Atalanta could be a big surprise in the Europa League.