Think of the top teams in Italy and some names stand above the rest. Teams such as Juventus, Roma, and the Milan teams have a rich history, once being the conquerors of Europe. One side that has flown significantly under the radar in past seasons, though, is Atalanta. Currently sitting in 8th, the team are not necessarily over performing, but their record of 54 goals (just one less than Juventus) is impressive. In this article we will explore what Atalanta do right, what they do wrong, and analyse their play style.
Atalanta tactical analysis – Defensive play style
Atalanta have been a staple of the Serie A the past few seasons. After a string of managers with varying success, the owners decided to splash out and bring in Gian Piero Gasperini. A manager who some believe does not get enough credit for his tactical ability, Gasperini is famous for his 3-4-3 formation. A tactic first used over 10 years ago, his players are required to be extremely fit.
The high pressing nature of the formation means the front 3 must be constantly running and closing down the opposition defence. In behind, the 2 central midfielders must control that area, while the wide men push high to suffocate their opposite full backs and stop the wide ball. Atalanta work defensively by man-marking. Each player is assigned a man, and that man is followed to minimise the space when not in possession. From the top, the 3 forwards spread wide to really block out the channels, as seen by the heatmap of the most recent game v. Fiorentina
Atalanta tactical analysis – Going Forward
It would be rather optimistic, however, to assume that thistactic is a defensive success. Having conceded 37 goals this season, the mostof the top 10 in Serie A, it can probably be suggested that this formation, andthe tactics Gasperini promotes his players to use, is designed to score goals.
And score goals they do! With the front three of Zapata, Ilicic and Papu Gomez, Atalanta have the front three of dreams. The passing ability of Gomez, the dribbling of Ilicic and the strong but agile frontman in Zapata. When going forward, these players are the real key. The wide men with their high press occupy the opponent fullbacks. As a result, this leaves the front 3 up against the opponents 2 full backs. Ilicic and Gomez are able to drop deep and turn the formation to 3-4-2-1, the ‘rhombus’ shape that so many associate with Gasperini.
Duvan Zapata stats – Not just a target man
Zapata is a big man, standing at 1.86m, he has a presence in the box. Due to this, he had been used mainly as a target man by most of his managers. Big and strong, he would play with his back to goal to hold up play. Recently though, this has changed. Now utilised as the top of the rhombus, Zapata is able to run at the defence. He is winning less aerials than before, only 2 per game as opposed to the 4 or 5 earlier in the season. He plays less long balls as well.
The Colombian has 16 goals in Serie A this season, only Quagliarella and Ronaldo have more. This includes only one penalty, an amazing achievement. In the two months of December and January, Zapata scored 14 goals in 8 games, and became the first Serie A player since 1950 to score 8 or more goals in a month. This included an incredible 4 goals against Frosinone. He takes a lot of shots, an average of 3 per game, however according to Understat, 86% (and all 16 of his goals) have come from inside the penalty area.
Zapata is on incredible form this season, and in a team as offensive as Atalanta, having someone to put away the many chances they create is important.
Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic – a strikers dream
Josip Ilicic has had a varying season. His 8 goals and 5 assists is a good number for the Slovenian, however when seeing that 6 of the goals have come in 2 matches, it could be suggested that he can run very hot, or very cold. But Ilicic brings more than just goals to the team. His ability to drive the ball forward can help the Atalanta team get forward very quickly, and can create space for his team mates. He averages 2.4 dribbles per game, only 2 players have more. The number 72 takes a high amount of shots as well with 3.2 and when working with the other 2 forwards, creates the ideal attacking partnership.
Papu Gomez is one of the most in form and talented players in the Serie A this season and the final piece of the puzzle. A vital part of this Atalanta team, the Argentinean is everywhere. Although small in stature, the playmaker is strong and able to hold the ball up. He can dribble, clocking 1.8 dribbles per game.. The 31-year-old averages 2.9 crosses per game, over 1.1 more than any other player in Serie A showing that the height of Zapata is something that can be utilised in the team.
What stands out the most, however is Gomez’s ability to pass. No player in Europe’s top 5 leagues makes more key passes/game than Papu with an incredible 3.3 .key passes per game. This ability to create means the transition from defence to attack is one that is swift and precise and the forward men can get into their position knowing that the final pass will almost always be where they want it.
Atalanta tactical analysis – A round up
Serie A has in recent years gained a reputation for being a low scoring league. With some of the best defenders and goalkeepers in the world gracing the Italian shores, it’s easy to see why. In recent years, however, this reputation seems to be a bit unjust as the likes of Quagliarella, Zapata and Piatek make the headlines for their incredible scoring feats. As our friends RegistaBible mentioned (check out their articles here) it could be argued that the Atalanta team, among others, started this attacking trend.
The league is becoming more and more exciting, and Atalanta are at the forefront of it. They play fast, attractive football, and deserve all the success they get