Before being recognized in Europe, Atalanta has been tearing Serie A apart for some time now. From eliminating Juventus from Coppa Italia and scoring 4 past Inter last season to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals the next.
A successful campaign last year led Atalanta, Gasperini, and his men to play in the most prestigious European competition for the first time. This season, Atalanta is the third most prolific European attack so far; having scored 83 goals so far in 30 games. A high and impressive record achieved mainly through scoring 7 goals on 3 different games against Torino, Lecce and Udinese.
Note: Udinese were considered the meanest defense in Serie A before facing Atalanta.
“These players don’t need a coach anymore, they know exactly what to do.”Gasperini, June 2020
Gian Piero Gasperini has been able in a couple of years to put together a system and a team that can perform (almost) constantly at a high level. Despite a few struggles here and there, Atalanta has been overachieving under him to say the least.
Gasperini’s system relies mainly on the following components:
- Constant and high pressing
- In-field runs from midfielders and wing-backs
- Set-pieces and individual performances.
Gian Piero Gasperini has been coaching at professional level and never won one single title since his beginnings in 2003 with Crotone. In fact, up until taking over Atalanta, Gasperini has more or less had a very average career as manager.
Gasperini led Crotone to Serie B then Genoa to Serie A where he made a name for himself. At Genoa, he would coach the likes of Thiago Motta and Milito: who would then leave to be central pieces of Mourinho treble-winning Inter. A club he would coach and get sacjed from a few years later.
Speaking of sacking, the man has a history. In fact, very often when he leaves, it’s not at the end of his contract. But not this time.
Just like Antonio Conte, Gasperini opts for a three-man defense. A system he has used throughout his career and one that he optimized year after year. While Conte’s tactics are more defensive and direct, Gasperini prefers his team to press high and play a short passing minded game.
Win The Ball, KeeP The ball
This sentence sums up Atalanta’s transitional phases. When Atalanta loses possession, their players will try to recover it higher up the pitch rather than drop back. In order to do so, Atalanta players will man-mark each opponent to close the passing lane. This forces opponents to launch hazardous long balls.
The following video shows how Atalanta (in blue) make use of man-marking and overloading the ball side to limit the opposition from building their play from the back.
While this high and constant pressing has been working well for Atalanta, it has also cost them some points. The high defensive block along with the width of Atalanta’s tactics result in large spaces being left in the defense. Especially the 3 defenders who can be stretched wide in attempts to man-mark or overload ball side.
Once possession is regained Atalanta will look to keep it and pass it short. This season, Atalanta has made 540 passes per 90 min on average. With a success rate of 83.9%, it is worth mentioning that on average from 460 short passes attempted, only 59 were inaccurate (an accuracy rate of 87%). On the other hand, Atalanta will attempt only 53 long passes per game and waste away 50%.
This highlights the short passing focused training and tactics of Gasperini. However; those same instructions who Atalanta relies on as strengths are sometimes the team’s worst enemy. Next video explains it.
Players “carrying” Atalanta
Gasperini attacks with 5 players, his striker(s) and attacking midfielder(s) and his wingbacks (Hateboer and Gosens; right and left respectively).
More surprisingly, most of the important playerd at Atalanta have been bought for fees way below their actual value.
As mmentioned int he beginning, Atalanta counts on set pieces and individual sparks of genius from their best players. Illicic and Gomez for example, are Atalanta’s creative players. Both can dribble, launch through balls and shoot from distance. They provide Atalanta’s attacking phases with additional options by roaming freely in the final third, often dropping wide or low to create passing triangles.
The two wingbacks provide not only width but also infield runs that break defensive lines. The strikers ability to create space by drifting wide allows the wingbacks to exploit central areas by making runs into the box. In fact this type of run is also made by Atalanta’s central midfielders on some occasions. Another way of overloading ball side but this time while enjoying possession.
Gasperini’s Atalanta approaches all their games positively. By doing so, Atalanta has been able to break through and proved to everyone how dangerous their team was. Their tactics revolve around 3 main instructions:
- High pressure
- Short passing