Rick D’Andrea

Giving air-time to a team that is currently in the bottom four of the Serie A table doesn’t happen too often. Generally, the ‘big three’ (Inter, Juventus and Milan) dominate the headlines, with a group of six teams (Fiorentina, Roma, Lazio, Napoli, Sampdoria and Genoa) receiving the rest of the coverage. Really, the only time that a club near the wrong end of the ladder gets sizeable media coverage is when a player wants to leave, or their coach is on his last legs and about to be sacked.

But this isn’t the case with Atalanta. They may have seen Angelo Gregucci get the bullet after four consecutive losses at the start of the season, but there is still a lot of hope for the Bergamo side. Since installing former Juventus midfielder Antonio Conte as boss, things have certainly been looking up.

Not only did the side get off to a great start under Conte by claiming their first three points via draws, becoming instantly hard to beat, but they then followed those results up with victories against Udinese and the week after against Parma. These efforts duly got the Orobici out of the bottom three for the first time this season. It was only 17th place, but it was a move in the right direction, especially for a club with ambitions of staying in Italy’s top-flight.

Over the summer, the Bergamaschi landed one of the hottest prospects in Italian football. His name: Robert Acquafresca. Originally on loan to Cagliari whilst contracted to Inter, Acquafresca had taken Serie A by storm, by scoring 14 goals last season for the Isolani, helping Cagliari to one of their best seasons ever. The 22-year-old had been touted as one of the next generation of Azzurri strikers that would eventually lead the nation to a fifth World Cup.

His ability to weave through congested defences and find the necessary space was lauded. Once the space was found, his finishing ability, coupled with the amount of power behind each shot, made the Italian footballing world stand up and take notice. Tragically, this season, things have not gone Acquafresca’s way, as an injury sustained to his right leg has forced the player to miss crucial minutes on the pitch.

In his place, not-so-well-known striker Simone Tiribocchi has entered the picture, and performed dutifully. The 31-year-old was third choice to Acquafresca and club icon Cristiano Doni, but has wriggled his way into Conte’s starting XI, and almost cemented a spot in the side. His five goals so far this season have been the catalyst for the Orobici’s revival. Tiribocchi takes on the opposition’s best defender week-in, week-out, and it is an honour to be bestowed especially considering who is on his side.

What about the Atalanta icon himself? Doni is still able to dazzle and entertain, whilst posing a threat to the opposition. Despite being the ripe old age of 36 – and not having put the ball in the back of the net so far this season – the former Sampdoria and Mallorca playmaker is still as dangerous as ever. All it takes for the wizard to ignite play is one moment of brilliance. Whether it be an incisive pass to a team-mate, splitting the defence, or a side-step to keep possession, Doni knows what needs to be done in order for the right result to occur.

So, why are the Bergamo outfit still almost propping up the table?
The team has failed to capitalise on the matches they would have expected to take three points from at the start of the season. Fixtures against Catania, Chievo and Livorno would have been realistic victories, which instead have resulted in two draws and a 1-0 loss to the Amaranti. Add to this an absence of luck against Sampdoria, Genoa, Lazio and Roma, and the team could have been higher-placed had the football gods been smiling upon the Conte’s men.

Rampant instability in the dugout has also not helped Atalanta’s cause. Gregucci replaced current Sampdoria boss Luigi Del Neri at the end of last season, and only having four games to ultimately manage the side was not helpful. The players were becoming accustomed to a style of play, and after only four fixtures, now have to adapt to a new one (which they have admittedly done with some success).

Conte is not a stranger to accomplishing tough tasks. He did manage to get Bari in to the top flight last season before leaving the Galletti, and the former Bianconero was forever getting La Vecchia Signora out of tight squeezes. His vision is being accepted by the players; all that needs to follow are the results.

With matches against Inter, Bologna and Napoli to come in the next few weeks, the Bergamo outfit will need to accumulate as many points as possible, as well as claiming the odd point or two against some of the in-form clubs in the league.

Not mission impossible for Atalanta, but as every week passes – and points are dropped – the task for Antonio Conte’s men becomes much more difficult. 40 points is generally the amount needed to stay up in Serie A. To reach that another 28 must be picked up.

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