A 4-0 defeat won’t have been what Atalanta had in mind for their Champions League debut, but that’s how things unfolded away to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday evening.
Mislan Orsic bagged a hat-trick after Marin Leovac opened the scoring early on, and with La Dea trailing 3-0 at half time the damage was done in the opening 45 minutes.
With five games to play in the group, all is not lost, but Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have two games against Manchester City among those, meaning the pressure has already been heaped upon them.
A headless start cost the Goddess
It took ten minutes for Dinamo to take the lead but in all honesty it could have come sooner. Atalanta were at sixes and sevens at the back and none of their defensive trio – Rafael Toloi, Berat Djimsiti nor Andrea Masiello – were able to provide anything resembling composure.
They were headless, with neither Marten de Roon nor Remo Freuler looking as solid as usual in front of them.
That edginess continued throughout the first half, though very slow and barely noticeable progression was made.
Gosens a positive
Robin Gosens lost his place in the Atalanta XI in the second half of last season and looked like he might leave this past summer, but the No.8 was genuinely excellent on the left despite the defeat.
The German didn’t put a foot wrong all game and showed incredible energy from the first to last minute, though that’s nothing new from him.
What’s surprising is that he stood out in doing that. Papu Gomez ran as much as he could, but the No.10 doesn’t quite have that same engine.
Gosens’ night could only have been better on a personal level had he scored his headed chance in the second half, and his efforts didn’t warrant being on the wrong side of a 4-0 hammering.
The chances were there, welcome to early-season Atalanta
Notoriously slow starters under Gasp, Atalanta tend to take longer than most to find their stride, which is oddly more apparent in attack than anywhere else.
It was true in his first year, when he was almost sacked after five games before finishing fourth, and it was true last season when the Nerazzurri failed to score in six of their seven matches between late August and mid October, but had been creating chances, before finishing third and with more goals than anyone else in Serie A.
Those chances were also created in Zagreb. Duvan Zapata should have scored twice, Mario Pasalic could have had two himself, Papu Gomez another, as well as Gosens’ headed effort. Granted, those came when they were already well adrift, but the margin wasn’t quite as wide as the scoreline suggests after the horrid start.
Hope hasn’t fully faded
It was clear that Atalanta were nervous in Zagreb, which is somewhat understandable given they were playing their first Champions League game in the club’s 112-year history.
Now they need to move on and put the night behind them. They’ll never have to experience those first-time nerves again and with their home fans behind them at the Stadio San Siro, they’ll fancy themselves against Shakhtar Donetsk in a fortnight.
All is not lost. Atalanta are the kings of comebacks, both in individual matches and over the course of a season, so don’t be too quick to write them off just yet.