After a tricky 14-15 Serie A season, Atalanta finished the season in 17th, just three points above the relegation zone, and the fourth worst attacking record in Italy. The Gasperini revolution would see in the next five years changing the club’s fortunes and European status forever, but how could a team running a tight budget turn into Champions League contenders?
Edoardo Reja, the club’s former manager, resigned at the end of the 14-15 season, enabling former Inter Milan manager Gian Piero Gasperini to take the helm of the club. The previous seasons struggle saw the club desperate for a major overhaul, if there were any hopes of Atalanta becoming a consistent Serie A figure.
At the start of the 15-16 season, Gasperini would opt for a 4-3-3, a system that had become key in European football after success from Barcelona in the Champions League. The progression was minimal for the club, seeing out a 13th placed finish, only eight points above their total in the previous season.
3-4-1-2: The ‘Gung-Ho’ formation of Italian Football
The key to Atalanta’s recent success is the use of the 3-4-1-2 formation. Gasperini was able to take Italy’s well-known defensive system and deploy an attacking tactic that has become unrivalled by any team within the league.
The system used (above) can be manifested to become a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-4-3, dependant on the situation at hand. Whether the team is winning or losing – play through left and right flanks is crucial. Robin Gosens, who plays as the left fullback/ midfielder, has been the key asset on the wings, contributing ten goals and eight assists across 42 games in all competitions. The back three, consisting of Toloi, Caldara and Djimsiti are required to stick close to their man, which does place the defenders into some unusual positions at times.
With this style of defending, gaps begin to open, enabling opposition attackers to exploit the space. Last season saw the side concede 48 goals, the second most out of any Serie A side in the top-six. The high amount of goals should be an issue for the club, but their well-drilled system enables fast counter-attacking play.
Transitioning from Defence to Attack
This is where Atalanta begin to shine – Gasperini’s side scored 98 goals in the 19/20 Serie A season, almost breaking the record for most goals within a season. Their main man is Alejandro Gomez. At 5”5, the Argentinian is very skilful but more importantly – very quick. His ability to weave around defenders has made it near impossible for defenders to retrieve the ball.
A little further forward is Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata. Standing almost a foot taller than Gomez, both forwards surprisingly boast excellent dribbling, and tend to play deeper to allow Gomez and other players to carry the ball to the final third. Together, both strikers produced 45 goals across 34 matches. This doesn’t include substitute Luis Muriel, a much pacier and athletic striker than Ilicic and Zapata, who himself produced 19 goals, mainly from the bench.
Gasperini’s Atalanta is nothing short of exceptional. Taking the three at the back formation, which was well succumbed to within Italy, and changing the style to become more attacking is something that hasn’t been seen in Serie A before. With the side scoring plenty of goals, their attacking style is certainly no issue – but could the system be caught out defensively overtime? It’s a question that will be forever asked of this thrilling Atalanta side.