As the Italian Serie A came to a conclusion, there was two top 4 spots that came with an illustrious ticket into the Champions League there for the taking.
Runaway champions Juventus had already cemented their place at the summit of the league table, followed by Napoli, who had also booked their place in next seasons Champions League; finishing runners-up despite a gap of more than ten points. That left just two spots in Europe’s most prestigious club competition to be won with some of Italy’s most iconic clubs battling it out for a place amongst Europe’s elite.
Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio became the latest football fairy-tale when they came from behind to win against Sassuolo in their final game, a win that secured them Champions League football for the first time in their history!
Duvan Zapata’s equalizer as well as second half goals from Alejandro Gomez and Mario Pasalic ensured a comeback that sent Atalanta into third place – overtaking AS Roma and seven-time European champions AC Milan. The team from Bergamo in Northern Italy also finished a place above Inter Milan, as their head to head record was better than the three-time European cup/Champions League winners. A deserved finish for a team that will be hot to handle for any opponent in Europe, with talent all over the pitch.
Captain Alejandro Gomez has certainly led by example for Atalanta this season. Sometimes referred to by his nickname ‘Papu’, Gomez plays as an attacking central midfielder for Atalanta. Papu utilises his 5”5 frame and low centre of gravity to dribble past opponents and find key passes. Gomez has managed 11 assists in the league this season, with no player in the league achieving more than him.
Argentinean playmaker Gomez has been a catalyst for his team’s good form and high finish this season, shown through his impressive statistics. He has created an immense 112 chances in the league this season, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Clubs all over Europe will be keeping a keen eye on Duvan Zapata this summer. Since joining on loan from Sampdoria, striker Zapata has been prolific in the black and blue stripes of Atalanta. The Columbian sharpshooter finished the season as the second highest goal scorer in the league with 23 goals in 37 games. Only the 26 goals that Sampdoria’s veteran marksman Fabio Quagliarella scored was better than Zapata’s tally. Zapata even managed to outscore Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, with CR7 scoring 21 times in his debut season in Italy’s topflight.
Reports are circulating that Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Real Madrid are all interested in Zapata after his stellar season, despite Zapata agreeing to another loan spell back at Atalanta. His future at the minute is uncertain.
However, Head coach Gian Piero Gasperini has squashed speculation over his future after committing to the club. Former Inter coach Gasperini joined Atalanta from Genoa in 2016 and took the club into the Europa League with a fourth-place finish in his first season. He also managed to reach the final of the Coppa Italia this season with Atalanta but lost out to Lazio.
Gasperini has received plaudits for his side’s attacking football, that has seen them score more goals than any other team in the league this season. AS Roma were one of the clubs rumoured to be after the 61-year-old after a disappointing season left them outside the top 5 and departing ways with Claudio Ranieri. However, Atalanta and president Antonio Percassi released a statement recently announcing that Gasperini will stay, saying “With great satisfaction I can confirm that the relationship between Atalanta and our coach Gian Piero Gasperini continues.”
The commitment of Gasperini will be great boost to Atalanta, who will be looking forward to the season ahead and their debut season in the Champions League. Atalanta will be a handful for any of team in the competition with the dangerous attacking talent they possess. After an historic campaign, who knows what the future will hold for the Nerazzurri.