Atalanta have become one of the most complex, well-balanced, and creative teams in Europe’s top leagues in the last couple of years. With the team displaying an outstanding brand of attacking football and performing equally just as well in the other areas, it is hard to think of something that’s missing.
Despite their impressive performance and looking like they don’t need to change much in order to succeed, they indeed needed some fresh additions in the new 2020/21 season in their aim to fill the tiniest gaps and have just enough squad depth to take on every challenge that occurs.
While they have some of the best Serie A players in their squad, Atalanta needed to look beyond their impressive starting XI and figure out in which position that needed an improvement or back-ups.
Although many of the players that arrived at Gewiss Stadium are loanees, the Bergamo team didn’t shy away from making moves, bringing the likes of a few players that differentiate in position and skills.
While some are obviously there to provide depth and options for the coach Gian Piero Gasperini, others have already made some impact with their performances both in Italy and in the UEFA Champions League.
Where did La Dea need improvement?
Looking into Atalanta’s performance, there are rarely any difficulties that the team experiences when it comes to their build-up and attacking actions. Gasperini has built a creative yet disciplined team that manages to employ his tactics with freedom and ease. Although La Dea have some of the outstanding individuals in their attacking line and have no struggle in penetrating the opposition by being among the most efficient teams in Europe, they do need to look into their future goals and continuing to grow. At first, thinking about replacing players like Josip Iličić and Alejandro Gómez seems nearly impossible since they have been the main ones responsible for Atalanta’s positional changes and creativity in the final third.
With them both being at 32 years old, the team have to make sure they attract players with strong flair, technique, and explosiveness in order to make the future transition easier and continue their strong performance.
When it comes to their midfield performance, there’s hardly any misunderstanding between the players in the starting XI and all of them have been used according to their strengths. What is something they have struggled with is the lack of equally good players on the bench, who could be good replacements should an injury occur or should they need an immediate in-game change of strategy. While their midfielders complement each others’ movement and actions very well, the team were lacking a strong figure that could come off the bench and make a change if the team get stuck.
Despite sticking to the same 3-4-1-2 formation, Gasperini is very flexible when it comes to making in-game changes that could win him a game. There are many occasions where he has proven to have a strong tactical sense and make an effort in the right direction. But there are also times when the lack of depth and suitable options on the bench have been the reason for their predictableness.
This leads to discussing their defensive performance, which is the most vulnerable area for Atalanta. Although they go out completely aware that they will throw everything they have in attack and worry less about their defence, this is still the main reason for their failure in certain games. Using a three-men backline is a huge risk itself, but lacking players who can make the difference in that area is even worse. While the team do have solid performers at the back, the lack of balance in their abilities and the lack of awareness have come as crucial in the defensive phase.
The individual performances in the central areas of their own half haven’t been the most impressive. The team tend to lose a lot of duels around the box, which often lead to the opposition shooting. Signing someone who excels in his defensive actions and performs well whenever a challenge needs to be made was on the agenda for the team.
Having Hans Hateboer on the right, who contributes equally well in all phases, wasn’t reciprocated on the left. While the left-midfielder Robin Gosens is one of their best performers, he is very likely to contribute to the actions in the half-spaces and make late runs to the box, rather than provide the needed width in the left midfield. While this has worked for the most part and he crosses the ball often, having an additional wide player that could add on both defensively and in attack by providing crossing opportunities is always needed, especially against teams that fail to organise and defend well in the box. It also helps in bringing unpredictability whenever it’s needed. That’s why Atalanta had to think of another option for that position too.
The new arrivals and how they could add to Atalanta’s performance
It seems like the team have thought of every little detail and made sure to bring many new players in their efforts to keep up with the top clubs in Europe. While they didn’t rely on well-known names, they did find players that could serve to their tactics in the best possible way. As mentioned, Gasperini adjusts his tactical decisions to his players’ strengths and tends to look for players who will fit a certain role. In the next sections, we go through the new additions to Atalanta’s squad and how their strengths could fit the team’s vision and help them improve.
Starting from the backline, La Dea brought the likes of the centre-back, Cristian Romero, on loan from Juventus. The 22-year-old had a successful season on loan with Genoa and despite the team’s poor performance in the 2019/20 season, he managed to impress with his individual skills.
The young Argentine has experience playing in a back three and has shown impressive confidence in his defensive actions. His defensive awareness and concentration are impressive and allow him to anticipate the opposition’s actions well. He fights for every loose ball and dives into challenges whenever needed in order to keep the ball away from the goal. Not only does he tend to intercept the ball and tackle, but his aerial presence is solid too.
This will give Atalanta more confidence in their defensive third whether they defend attacks from the flanks, counters, or set-pieces. If we have to talk about anything that could hold him back, it is his limited contribution to the build-up. His passing abilities aren’t his strongest asset and his focus always leans towards his defensive actions rather than contributing to the ball progression.
As mentioned, La Dea had to take care of the wide areas. While they didn’t have a natural left-sided full-back/wing-back, they also needed more depth on the right. However, it looks as though they considered their defensive flaws well since all of the new wide players excel in their defensive actions.
One of the arrivals that are supposed to cover the left-flank is Johan Mojica. The left-back joined on loan from Girona and was immediately tested by Gasperini. The Colombian strolls up and down the flank and provides coverage of the wide areas that Atalanta didn’t have before. He could be equally important in both attack and defence thanks to the nature of the wing-back position.
Mojica could support the team with crosses from the left, which not only provides more explosiveness to their attacking actions but also gives the other players the freedom to commit more bodies in the central areas. What helps him succeed in progressing the ball on the flank is his dribbling abilities and confidence on the ball. He performs well in 1 vs 1 situations which could be very useful for the team.
When it comes to his defensive performance, Mojica doesn’t often dive into tackles and is not an aggressive type of player, but he does contribute with defensive duels and has a 62.79% success rate in them.
Another player that joined the team is Fabio Depaoli on loan from Sampdoria. The 23-year old right-back/right-midfielder had a lot of playing minutes for Sampdoria last season and is a good option for Atalanta in case they need more defensive stability but still have a crossing presence on the right. While Hateboer seems like an irreplaceable player on the right, his focus on the attacking actions and doing positional changes sometimes take-off of his defensive performance. Depaoli is strong in intercepting and blocking the ball, and he tends to dive into tackles in his attempts to block the opposition efforts. That could be helpful against teams that tend to attack through the wings, although his high position could be exposed on the counter. He could also assist with crossing, joining the attack, although his defensive actions are better measured.
Another defensively focused player is Cristiano Piccini who arrived on loan from Valencia. Piccini is a good option to add depth to the squad although he only got 75 minutes playing time in La Liga last season. His defensive positioning and contribution with defensive duels could be useful, especially if the team are struggling in keeping the lead in the last minutes of a game.
While they have strong individualities on the advanced positions, they didn’t stop seeking for new additions that could keep the creativity levels high and help them perform well both in Serie A and Champions League.
The new additions up front serve well in their vision and strategy. Aleksey Miranchuk who joined from the Russian Lokomotiv Moscow is a complex attacking midfielder that already helped them in their game against Midtjylland in CL by scoring a beautiful goal to wrap up their 4-0 win.
He was the best performer for Lokomotiv last term, scoring 12 goals and assisting three more, helping them reach second place in the league. His clinical finishing abilities and attacking flair could fit Atalanta’s style of play perfectly, and Gasperini wouldn’t need to worry about not being able to give some rest to his key players. Miranchuk likes to move all around the central areas but also move out wide too. His spatial awareness is crucial for his success since he knows how to position well and take advantage of the opposition’s mistakes.
What makes him an even better addition is his passing abilities and managing to make the most out of the situations. While he Is more of a direct threat, his through balls and smart passes can increase a team’s efficiency a lot. That means that he could build a solid partnership with his teammates and contribute to their constant positional changes and creative movement.
The Russian international also provides Atalanta with more options for attacking set-pieces.
Gasperini made sure to have players that fit his attacking approach and would be able to carry the team in all competitions. The former PSV forward Sam Lammers also seems to fit well. Despite his central-attacking position and lack of playing time last season, he not only contributes with his shooting abilities but with well-measured through balls and passes as well. His dribbling abilities also help the team in holding on to the ball in the final third and create more opportunities.
He drops back quite often which allows him to help with ball progression but also to provide an additional threat by shooting from distance.
It’s clear that they have looked for players that could fit certain roles and provide even more flexibility to the team.