Can Atalanta Become an Established Force in Italian Football?

Atalanta's recent 4-0 defeat away to Dinamo Zagreb marked a baptism of fire for the club in its first-ever Champions League campaign. But while the Italian side were bamboozled by the Croatians on their top-flight European debut, there is still plenty for them to be positive about.

Rapid rise

The Bergamo-based outfit were promoted back to Serie A in 2011 and have gone from strength to strength ever since qualifying for the Europa League twice, the Champions League once and reaching the final of the Coppa Italia.

In their 2017/18 Europa League campaign, they beat Everton 8-1 over two matches in the Group Stage and were narrowly eliminated 3-4 on aggregate by Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 32.

With stadium upgrades underway and more top-flight European football to look forward to before the end of the year, the club will now set their sights on becoming a force to be reckoned with in Italian football.

The Gasperini effect

Atalanta's rise coincided with the arrival of coach Giampaolo Gasperini who led La Dea to a fourth-place finish in his first season in charge (2016/17). The club had only finished 13th the year before and began the season as relegation candidates. On that occasion, fourth place was not enough to earn a place in the Champions League as Italy only had three qualification spots prior to the 2017/18 season.

After losing some of their key players the following summer, Atalanta finished the 2017/18 season in a commendable seventh place and reached the Europa League for the second-straight season. They fared even better in 2018/19, finishing fourth and claiming a Champions League berth while also reaching the Coppa Italia final where they were defeated by Lazio.

Youth academy pays dividends

The club is well-known in Italy for their youth academy which has produced a host of stars over the years. They continue to nurture top talent which helps them on the pitch but also financially as they often cash-in on their most coveted players.

All this has put the club on a steady financial footing and allowed them to carry out upgrades on their stadium to bring it up to UEFA standards. The work should be completed by the end of next season.

Key to future success

For Atalanta to continue on their current trajectory, they may need to fend off the advances of clubs who may try to lure Gaperini away from Bergamo. But right now, club and coach, seem like a perfect match. As well as hanging on to their coach, they will need to keep their top players, something they managed to do after finishing fourth last term. This is why remaining in the top four will be crucial going forward.  

A bright start to the new campaign

They made a great start to the current campaign, the standout result being a 2-0 win away at Roma, a club expected to challenge them for fourth place. Based on their current form in the league, a challenge for third is not out of the question. Meanwhile, they will look to bounce back from the defeat in Zagreb and continue to learn from their Champions League experience.

Atalanta's league finishes no longer look like anomalies and giants like Roma, Milan and Lazio now face a real challenge to break back into the top four as the new kids on the block continue to make their mark.