If watching some of Serie A’s more established names leaves you wanting a little bit more, then thank your lucky stars that Gian Piero Gasperini, Remo Freuler and Atalanta exist.
Every time it seems as though they’ve reached their peak, as though there’s no other way for them to impress, to amaze, to stun, they find something, somewhere, and leave onlookers salivating all over again.
It couldn’t have gotten any better when they qualified for the Europa League in 2017, but then they repeated the achievement and did the same in 2018. In 2019 they finished third, scored more goals than anyone else in Serie A – 77 – and reached the Champions League for the first time in their history and, surely, that was as good as it was going to get.
But they’re doing it again. With 27 rounds of 2019/20 played they already have 77 goals in Serie A alone – 94 across all competitions – and they’re ten points better off than they were at this same point last season, behind just Lazio and Bologna as the most improved teams in Italy’s top tier.
Everyone knows what Atalanta do now – they attack. But nobody is able to stop them.
That 77-goal tally has been hit despite last season’s top goalscorer Duvan Zapata missing ten games through injury, though he still has 13 Serie A goals in 17 outings.
Seven different players have five goals or more this term – Josip Ilicic, Zapata, Papu Gomez, Luis Muriel, Robin Gosens, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Mario Pasalic – while as many as 14 have contributed with at least one goal over the course of the campaign.
Only two games have come and gone this season without La Dea scoring – against Cagliari and Sampdoria – and there have been just four matches in which they’ve scored just once – against Bologna, Juventus, Inter and SPAL.
Their free-flowing attack is admirable, but Gasperini’s setup would collapse in on itself if he didn’t have two integral pieces at its heart in Remo Freuler and Marten de Roon.
Watching on, you could be forgiven for thinking there were multiple No.11s running around for the Nerazzurri as Freuler appeared to be closing down two players at once and even playing passes to himself at times.
There wasn’t a blade of grass between Atalanta and Lazio’s 18-yard lines that Freuler didn’t cover.
Even in stoppage time, and having played 70 minutes just three days earlier, he was breaking up Lazio attacks and carrying the ball to the edge of their box himself, or bursting forward to offer support as Josip Ilicic and Luis Muriel counterattacked.
Freuler’s energy is inexhaustible and it’s no coincidence that 155 of his 161 Atalanta appearances have come since Gasp succeeded Edy Reja in Bergamo.
“We never give up,” Freuler said after the game, “like this city and like all of the players in this squad”.
The 28-year-old’s words not only highlighted that his own attitude is one very much shared by his teammates, as if their results this season and back as far as 2016 hadn’t made that clear enough, but that Atalanta had more to fight for after the restart was a belief shared by the playing staff.
With Bergamo being Italy’s hardest-hit city by COVID-19 and Atalanta having a closer connection to their city and people than most clubs, it was always expected that they’d be even hungrier than before to put on a show to “bring a smile back to the face” of the city’s people, as Gasperini had said before the restart.
“We weren’t too tidy in the opening 20 minutes,” the Swiss added, “but then we played with our head, with technique and with intensity”, before Gasperini praised the “energy, technical ability and heart” of his players.
Freuler’s summation of the Bergamaschi’s latest incredible comeback could have been an analysis of his time in Lombardy and while their goal-hungry forwards get most of the plaudits each week, nothing they do would be possible without his energy, intelligence and fight behind them.