MILAN (Reuters) – Having disposed of league leaders Napoli in the Coppa Italia, Atalanta have a chance to claim another notable scalp when they visit fading AS Roma in Serie A on Saturday.
The Bergamo-based team have reinvented themselves after losing three key players from the side which finished a best-ever fourth last year, confounding observers who had expected to see them back in the lower reaches of the table.
Once again, credit is being given to coach Gian Piero Gasperini who has bounced back from a low point in his career which saw him sacked by Inter Milan after five games and, incredibly, fired twice by Palermo in the space of a month.
In his 18 months at Atalanta, the 59-year-old has restored his reputation both as one of Italy’s most tactically astute coaches and as a specialist at working with young players — even if he admits he is not one of the game’s great innovators.
“I’m a coach who imitates and uses a little bit of everything,” he said in a recent interview with UEFA.com.
“I not one who invents things but I have learned from so many different situations. I copy and transform things, trying to give them my own interpretation.”
Atalanta are often found in the lower reaches of Serie A and last season was their first top 10 finish since 2007-08. Their only major title was the Coppa Italia, back in 1963.
Their relative success last season followed Gasperini’s decision to give a chance to young players such as central defender Mattia Caldara and midfielders Roberto Gagliardini and Franck Kessie.
Caldara is the only one of those still at the club, Gagliardini having left for Inter Milan a year ago with Kessie departing for AC Milan in the summer along with Andrea Conti, another key player.
However, Atalanta spent wisely in the summer, signing Marten de Roon, defender Timothy Castagne and Bryan Cristante, among others. Equally importantly, they held on to their inspirational Argentine playmaker Alejandro Gomez.
They bounced back from two early Serie A defeats, fighting back to draw 2-2 with titleholders Juventus and winning 2-0 at AC Milan and are ninth in the table with 27 points.
But it has been in the cup competitions where they have excelled. They won 2-1 at Napoli on Tuesday to reach the last four of the Coppa Italia.
They also topped their group in the Europa League, notching 3-0 and 5-1 wins over Everton on the way.
“We have shown that we are a team with personality,” said Gasperini.
Roma, on the other hand, are fourth and have slipped nine points behind leaders Napoli after a lacklustre run which has seen striker Edin Dzeko hit a barren patch.
“He’s creating great chances but sometimes he’s not able to turn them into goals,” said Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco after the 1-1 draw with Sassuolo.
“He’s still an important player for us and I hope he can rediscover his scoring form – it’s important to keep playing him in that regard.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Keith Weir)