Manchester City put five past Atalanta on Tuesday. but who actually are Atalanta? Well, they have a very interesting story.
After impressive saves by both keepers, the deadlock was finally broken after twenty-six minutes when Ilicic, who caused the Sky Blues defence problems all game, was clipped in the box by captain Fernandinho. Penalty. Up stepped Malinovskyi and sent Brazilian keeper Ederson the wrong way. The Italians were 1-0 up but their fragile lead didn’t last long as Augero equalised just six minutes later after a delightful ball over the Atalanta defence. Just a few minutes later, City had completely turned the game around thanks to a penalty, swiftly converted by Agüero. In the second half, Sterling scored an eleven minute hat trick, confirming that the hosts would collect all three points. Because of this, Atalanta sit bottom of the group with zero points but that doesn’t reflect Atalanta’s free flowing expansive football.
Atalanta, formed in 1907, are participating in the Champions League for the first time in their history – after finishing third last season in Serie A.
The club, based in the small City of Bergamo in Northern Italy with a population of 120,000 doesn’t have a particularly rich history. Formed by a group of Swiss students in 1907, the club nicknamed the Nerazurri only have one major trophy to their name. Atalanta won the Coppa Italia (the Italian equivalent of the FA Cup) in 1963, the same year they finished eighth, a position they’ve only bettered seven times in their history.
Despite not winning another trophy, they have recently improved. Competing in the Europa League in recent seasons before finally qualifying for the greatest club football competition in the World, the Champions League.
Since getting promoted as Champions in 2011, the club languished in lower mid table for five years with their highest league position being thirteenth. Then in 2016 Edoardo Reja left the club and Gian Piero Gasperini was hired and he had a less than impressive start to his tenure. His team lost four of their first five games, finding themselves in the relegation zone but then something clicked and they went nine games unbeaten, only losing eight games all season. Thanks to this they finished fourth, their highest ever league position and qualified for the Europa League in the process. Despite being their first season in the competition, Atalanta finished top of their group but were knocked out at the round of 32 stage by Borussia Dortmund.
The season after they finished seventh despite the arrival of Josip Ilicic who scored eleven league goals in Serie A, finishing the season as the club’s top scorer. The season was far from catastrophic but they couldn’t qualify for the Europa League again as they lost to Copenhagen on penalties in the final qualifying round.
Last season, they brought another deadly striker to the club. Duvan Zapata arrived on loan from fellow Serie A outfit Sampdoria. Zapata, Ilicic and club captain Gomez have formed a frightening forward line, leading to the Nerazurri scoring the most goals in Serie A last season, netting 77 times. Scoring so many goals did take a toll on their defence as they also had the worst defence in the top five. They finished third only behind European heavyweight Juventus and Napoli. So, after a season in Europe’s second competition the Nerazurri finally qualified for the Champions League.
After the elation of the impending participation in the Chanpions League, it hasn’t been a great first round of fixtures. Atalanta were drawn in the same group as Premier League champions Manchester City, Shaktar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb. Apart from the Sky Blues, the Italian side were put in a group with sides of equal ability but Atalanta have failed to show their quality.
They sit bottom of the group with 0 points and a -9 goal difference after losing 4-0 to Dinamo Zagreb, 2-1 to Shaktar Donetsk and 5-1 to the before mentioned Manchester City.
The fact that they can’t even play in their own stadium for Champions League games probably doesn’t help either. They have to play at the San Siro which is over 40 miles away from their stadium, the Atleti Azzurri d’Italia stadium.
Atalanta’s Serie A campaign is going a little better with them sitting third after eight games.