Thanks to their recent dip in form, Roma's once semi-solid grip on fourth place, and all the Champions League spoils that come with it, has vanished. Prior to last week's defeat to Bologna, Roma could at least take heart that their main competition for that spot, the Goddesses of Atalanta, were struggling in kind, dropping points in three of their four prior matches. It was disappointment by association, but then Atalanta had to go and ruin things by winning last weekend, mounting a second half comeback on the road against Fiorentina.
All of which has setup a massive six-pointer on Saturday in Bergamo. With Atalanta sitting three points above Roma in fourth place, a victory for the Giallorossi would give Roma renewed hope in their Champions League chase, an objective that is reportedly holding up the sale of the club.
Needless to say, for reasons practical and financial, Saturday's trip to the Stadio Atleti Azzurri is incredibly important. To get a deeper understanding of the Atalanta side of that equation, we sat down with Nigel, the headman at Atalanta News, an entertaining and insightful source of English-language coverage of all things Atalanta.
At this point, it seems silly to refer to Atalanta as a surprise team, so what’s been the key to their success the past several years? How exactly have they been able to compete with the league’s wealthier sides and can they keep this up in the years to come?
Nigel: I think a large part of the success we have had is based on two things. Firstly team selection, Mister Gasperini has used mainly the same 12-13 players over the last 3 seasons. This means our approach to matches has become more and more consistent during the Gasperini era. Secondly we have always cut our cloth accordingly under the ownership of Mister Percassi. He spent within our means and stick to the wage budget. A combination of this and Gasperini’s use of the squad over the last few years has proved a recipe for success with us regularly punching above our weight and getting European Football.
Going along with that, Gasperini’s attack is among the best in Europe at the moment, how is he able to get such tremendous production out of players who may have been overlooked at other clubs?
Nigel: Its hard to say to be honest. I don’t think its just luck. He certainly works players very hard in training and has his own way of doing things as Martin Skrtel found out during his brief stay in Bergamo. Players performing for Gaperini and then not reaching those heights again is a fate suffered by many of this Genoa team and again its happened here when players have left Bergamo. Ultimately I just think Gasperini has a system and an eye for the players that will be able to perform that role, and when he finds those players he looks after them.
Atalanta matches have produced a league-leading 92 goals (scored and conceded) this season. Are you at all worried these extremes will catch up with them, potentially costing them a spot in the Champions League next season? When push comes to shove, do you have confidence in Atalanta’s defense?
Nigel: Am I worried? No. Definitely not. We have scored and conceded a lot this season but its not that far removed from the form we have shown for 3 seasons. The big difference this season is we are just scoring a lot more, we have always had defensive frailties but the best form of attack is defence and we attack very well.
Following that, what is Atalanta’s most glaring weakness and how might Roma exploit it?
Nigel: I personally fell we are always vulnerable to the quick counter attack. Fiorentina have exploited this well against us and it cost us the game in the Champions League against Shakhtar. Roma’s best chance for success is to make sure they counter quickly when the chance presents itself. It’s also vital for Roma to deal with Gosens. You definitely want to make Gosens defend rather than give him the freedom to get forward down the left.
Roma fans LOVE Papu Gomez, tell us a bit what makes him so special and why he’s been so instrumental in Atalanta’s success the past few years, and how in the world have they managed to hang onto him!?
Nigel: I have no idea how we have held on to him or why he has so few caps for Argentina. He is such a lovable guy. As a player he works hard, is the creative force in the team, is the captain, there really is nothing this lad can’t do. He is a great family man and really enjoys life in Bergamo and I think that’s a big reason why he has stayed. I think he likes it here. We certainly love having him. Be in no doubt he is one of the great Atalanta icons of all time. Grazie Papu.
Finally, give us a prediction for this weekend’s match.
Nigel: Both games against Roma finished 3-3 last season and give our form this season we can definitely expect goals. I will go 2-2 and Gianluca Mancini to get a goal for Roma.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the Atalanta side of this budding rivalry, one that we could be living ourselves if Roma managed to land Gasperini last summer. In any event, huge thanks to Nigel for his time and insight. Give Atalanta News a follow on Twitter!
Look for more Atalanta v. Roma coverage later this week.