Atalanta again visit what has been their third home of 2019/20 on Wednesday evening as they play host to Valencia in their first ever Champions League knockout round match.
Having had troubles in their two ‘home’ games at Parma’s Stadio Ennio Tardini at the beginning of the season – playing their while awaiting the reopening of their own stadium in Bergamo – they had similar trouble settling in at the Stadio San Siro.
Welcoming Shakhtar Donetsk in their second group stage game at the beginning of October, Atalanta followed up their humiliating 4-0 loss at Dinamo Zagreb by blowing a lead to lose with the game’s last kick.
It did get better from there though. Next to visit Milan were Manchester City and La Dea fought from behind to earn a point before seeing off Dinamo Zagreb with a comfortable 2-0 win.
They’ve been back once since sealing their progression and things went well then too, though they felt as though they left points behind in their 1-1 draw with Inter after Luis Muriel missed a late penalty, just as Josip Ilicic had done against Shakhtar in the same stadium months earlier.
Ever since Gian Piero Gasperini took charge in Bergamo, Atalanta have improved by the season.
Five poor results to start his tenure at the beginning of 2016/17 had his job on the line, but things soon changed and he turned their fortunes around by leading them to fourth – when Serie A had just three Champions League places to offer – and the club’s record points total of 72.
Their previous best had been 52, but that 2016/17 success brought their first taste of European football in 27 years and while they enjoyed the group phase, winning four of their six games and drawing the other two, they fell at the first hurdle after Christmas in typically dramatic fashion at the hands of Borussia Dortmund.
In 2017/18 they finished on 60 points and returned to Europe, but they never made the group stage as they were knocked out on penalties by Copenhagen in qualification.
Then came 2018/19 and they went one better again, finishing third with 69 points and sealing their place in the Champions League for the first time in their history.
The long-awaited game in Zagreb delivered something of a reality check though, as the players completely froze and appeared paralysed by finally hearing the Champions League anthem.
Valencia’s visit presents hope of going one step further than they managed in the Europa League though, and while the Spaniards are by no means mere pushovers, the Nerazzurri will fancy themselves to score in Milan and cause problems for Los Che.
Albert Celades is without a number of important players, including regular starting centre backs Gabriel Paulista, Ezequiel Garay and new arrival Alessandro Florenzi at right back.
With Atalanta being Serie A’s top scorers both last season and so far this term, as well as being the third highest scoring side on the continent behind just Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, they’ll be keen to get at Valencia’s rotated backline.
What Gasperini can’t afford though is for his players to be shellshocked again though, as the knockout rounds of the Champions League are even less forgiving than the group stages.
La Dea are finding themselves exploring new waters yet again, with almost 50,000 tickets sold they’ll have over a third of Bergamo’s population with them in Milan, and they’ll be looking to show Europe’s elite exactly what Italy has had to deal with over the last three and a half seasons.