Real Madrid faces a peculiar team, Atalanta. A signature team molded in his image and likeness by a veteran Italian coach, Gian Piero Gasperini (63 years old), whom José Mourinho said was the toughest coach he had ever faced. “In a Genoa-Inter I changed his system five times on the fly and all five times he countered me with his tactical movements. It was a spectacular 0-0 for those who love football ”, underlined the Portuguese coach of that match of the 2008-09 season.
Those of Zidane are going to find an army that always takes a step forward. It defends itself by attacking. It does not matter to him playing at home (30 goals this season in the League) than outside (23). Against the European champion than against the last in Serie A. The coach, as he did before at Genoa and Palermo – at Inter they didn’t leave him much more than a month -, turns his players into true soldiers who fulfill strictly its rules and tactical premises. And if anyone has any doubts about it, ask the brand-new Sevilla signing, Papu Gómez, who had to leave Bergamo because he did not want to continue maintaining Gasperini’s tactical discipline.
This Atalanta, fourth in the Italian League, is a prodigy of the attacking game. Not so much from the defender (31 goals against, only six clean sheets and obvious placement and concentration failures). He lives in the opposite field and that is why he leaves so many spaces behind him. Top scorer in Serie A last season with 98 goals, this time he already has 53 (and nine posts), only surpassed by the 57 of the leader, Inter. He is also the second in the classification of shots, 277 (130 on goal and 147 away). All the numbers support his occupation of the spaces, his willingness to attack with the more players the better, and moments in which the 10 field players are on the other side of the divide.
With an average 54% in possession of the ball (12,286 passes, 10,230 correct), no one in Italy scores more goals in positional actions, 79% (42 of 53). The rest, four on set pieces, four on counterattack and three from penalties. Muriel is their top scorer with 14 goals in just 752 minutes played; Zapata followed with nine and Gosens with seven.
Watching Atalanta play is a sum of hunches and unique tactical situations. From his 3-4-2-1, which in its most offensive version varies to 3-4-1-2 – he exchanges a midfielder for the two references above -, it is observed jumping to any of the three centrals with long drives that end in the opposite area, while the two midfielders automatically cover them; or how in the same play one of the sides centers and the other finishes. You can also count up to five and six players always close to the ball in any area of the field. Or persecutions of the man at certain moments of the game that have little to envy those of Bielsa.
For this first date against the whites he has an important loss, that of the right back Hateboer. Since he was injured, the block has shamelessly turned to the left in attack, where the other side, Gosens, a German, is a physical marvel. Gasperini’s big problem is having to leave out one of his three leading forwards: Ilicic, Zapata and Muriel. The last two, Colombians, proved on Sunday against Napoli (4-2) to be full, but the Serbian’s left-handedness is silky and from his accused individualism he wins matches on his own. De Gasperini can wait until the three played together. Reckless but very much in his line.