Atalanta fans will have woken up – probably quite late – on Monday morning and immediately checked phones, televisions and newspapers to see if they had dreamt of witnessing their team qualify for the Champions League and they would be forgiven for checking again after the morning coffee.
But, remarkably, that’s what the Bergamaschi managed to achieve this season and next year, for the first time in the club’s 112-year history, they will dine at European football’s top table.
The 2018/19 season saw them do more than just that though. La Dea reached the Coppa Italia final, smashing Juventus en route, and finished third in Serie A behind just Napoli and Juventus, outscoring everybody by racking up 77 goals in the process.
Player of the Season: Papu Gomez
There’s nobody quite like Papu in Bergamo, or in Serie A for that matter, and the Argentine was again key for Atalanta as he delivered more assists than anyone else in Italy’s top tier – 11 – as well as scoring some big goals helping them to smash the ceiling of what should have been possible on the 14th biggest budget in the division. Josip Ilicic gets a lot of praise, but it’s the No.10 and captain that makes this team click, and he’ll be dancing all over Europe next season in the Champions League group stage and, perhaps, beyond.
Best Signing: Duvan Zapata
Andrea Petagna was a solid servant to the club but when Duvan arrived from Sampdoria last summer it was hard to avoid thinking that this was an instant upgrade that was going to go well. Coming from Samp, too, his arrival weakened a team who should have been – and were for much of the season – a direct rival. After slow start, the Colombian ended the campaign with 23 Serie A goals, the most for Atalanta since Filippo Inzaghi’s Capocannoniere-winnning tally of 24 in 1996/97 and he is a big reason for their third-place finish.
The Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini
It was feared that the 61-year-old could depart, but president Antonio Percessi confirmed that he would continue and extend his stay in Bergamo just days after the season ended and as long as he’s there, it’s easy to see Atalanta continuing to upset the odds.
Prior to his arrival, the club’s best ever points total in Serie A was 52. In his three seasons he has guided them to 72, 60 and 69, finishing fourth, seventh and third in the process. What’s more is that Gasperini has his side playing an attractive style that makes for entertaining viewing not only for the Curva Pisani faithful, but anyone who tunes in to watch them any given week.
There have been plenty, but in an attempt to look deeper than the obvious final day confirmation of qualifying for the Champions League, it’s hard to overlook their 4-1 demolition of Inter in November. In the pouring rain on a typically testing Bergamo afternoon, Atalanta made light work of Luciano Spalletti’s side and there was a party atmosphere at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
The icing on the cake came in stoppage time when Papu Gomez, who had recently celebrated the birth of his third child, curled one into the top corner from 25-yards after a passing move that started in defence and had every pass greeted by a round of “olé’s” from the capacity attendance. The strike prompted sheer jubilation, with the entire bench running onto the pitch to surround the captain in celebration.
It’s easily forgotten, but from round three of this season Atalanta went on a run of six games in which they failed to score in five, the only exception being a 2-2 draw at the Stadio San Siro against AC Milan. After beating Frosinone 4-0 on the opening day and then drawing 3-3 with Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, the drought came as something of a surprise and now that they have ended the campaign as clear top scorers in the division, that spell is all the more confusing. Those problems never went too far from the surface though, and they did reappear as La Dea dropped points at home to both Empoli and Chievo as the season’s end neared.