On Wednesday evening, it seemed like all Serie A supporters except those who cheer for Juventus were gunning for an Atalanta victory in the Coppa Italia. For the last four years, the Bianconeri reigned supreme, adding consecutive cup triumphs to their four league titles under the tutelage of coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Yet far from being weighed down by the expectations of such a large audience, La Dea once again thrived in the underdog role, attacking the seemingly omnipotent Juve with a carefree regard right from the very first minute.
Let’s pause for a second in order to take in the task ahead of them. The last time Allegri’s side had lost to an Italian opponent was to Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli back in April 2018. They had also kept seven consecutive Coppa Italia clean sheets since that same side defeated them 3-2 in a semifinal on April 5, 2017, a result that failed to see Napoli avoid an aggregate loss anyway. The bottom line is that before the match in Bergamo kicked off, Allegri had never been knocked out of the Coppa Italia since he joined Juventus in 2014.
Atalanta simply didn’t care.
Roared on by their passionate supporters, the Bergamaschi immediately pounced on the talented opposition with their usual feisty high-tempo style of play. It certainly played into the home side’s hands that Juve were out of sorts and had lost Giorgio Chiellini early on to injury, but this must certainly not detract from the praise that Gian Piero Gasperini and his men deserve.
This side press hard, they harry their opponents and they do not allow those who face them even a second to think and to regroup. The end result of their extraordinary effort was a previously unthinkable 3-0 victory over a stunned Juve, with on-fire striker Duvan Zapata firing in yet another brace.
17 - Duvan #Zapata has been direclty involved in 17 goals (16 goals, 1 assist) since the start of December 2018, more than any other player in the top-5 European Leagues (considering all comps). Explosive. #AtalantaJuve— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 30, 2019
Yet as their coach was keen to stress, the victory did not only come from blood and thunder. “I could not have asked for more and I don’t just mean the result, but also the passion, the style of football, the quality,” Gasperini stressed to Rai Sport after the match. “People think Atalanta just run hard and that’s it, but there’s more to it.
“We have always thought that just sitting back and defending would be suicide, so we may as well take the game to them with an aggressive and intense approach. Just that is not enough, as you need quality too and to take some risks.”
It is an approach that is pure opium to those who love the game, the excitement on offer addictive to say the very least. Perhaps this latest overachievement has drawn the biggest headlines, but in truth this is nothing new for the boss in a place where he has found his true calling in football.
In the early stages of his first season in charge (2016-17), Gasperini was on the brink of the sack after poor results. It was then the veteran decided to go with youth, after all, he couldn’t really do worse than he had been. The gamble paid off in spectacular style as Atalanta finished fourth, qualifying for the Europa League with a club record 72 points.
Yet again, expectations were low in Europe as La Dea were drawn in a group that contained both Everton and Olympique Lyonnais. However, just like last Wednesday, Atalanta did not care whom they played, and finished top of the group having beaten Premier League Everton by a combined score of 8-1 in two matches.
Atalanta are a small fish in a big pond, a team competing for supporters with the two Milanese giants that reside only 30 miles away from their Lombardy neighbors. Their youth sector has built an excellent reputation in producing homegrown talent, but Gasperini has found success even in the face of continual sales of the likes of Franck Kessie, Andrea Conti, Roberto Gagliardini and Mattia Caldara.
They simply refuse to be beaten, blocking any external circumstances from touching them with an impenetrable shield of enthusiasm. This anarchistic style is all thanks to the culture forged by Gasperini, and the self-belief that it generates allowed Atalanta to progress to a Coppa Italia semifinal clash with Fiorentina against all odds.
They are Atalanta, and they don’t care what you think.