It’s normally all about numbers for Atalanta and that proved the case again when they came away from Sardinia with a 1-0 win on Sunday evening.
The magic number this time being two, in that the outfit from Bergamo appear to have two teams capable of performing at the highest level.
Gian Piero Gasperini rang the changes yet his side still managed to close the gap on Inter to just one point in their hunt to finish as high as possible in Serie A.
Impressive when you realise that the hosts had managed to win four of the previous encounters between the two, so to set up against a bogey side with your stars sat looking on was possibly more of a risk than most realised.
Duvan Zapata, Josip Ilicic, Alejandro Gomez and Robin Gosens were some of the most notable absentees, all watching on as their replacements proved equally as capable by winning the Bergamaschi’s eight Serie A games on the bounce.
The likes of Ruslan Malinovskyi and Hans Hateboer did more than enough as they deputised for the superstars of the high-scoring Bergamo outfit on a day in which they scored an outstanding 83rd Serie A goal of the season.
The goal was scored by perhaps the most impressive of the back-up brigade, Luis Muriel, who now has an amazing 16 goals in 10 Serie A starts and in any other side would be leading the line week-in-week-out but not at Atalanta.
In scoring the penalty that defeated the Isolani, Muriel became his team’s top scorer in Serie A ahead of Ilicic with 15 and Zapata who has 14 which is pretty crazy when you consider that he’s mainly used as a substitute.
Granted, one of Europe’s most exciting sides have all but qualified for the Champions League anyway as the teams below them struggle to find form, but it’s not mathematically decided with eight games still left to play which leads you to believe that Gasperini must really trust in the ability of his entire squad.
Zenga plays to his strengths
Walter Zenga’s Cagliari may have lost the match but it is evident that he seems to have found the right fit for a side that was struggling massively pre-lockdown.
The coach has began his reign in Sardinia with two wins, two losses and a draw but the way he pieces together his puzzle means that Casteddu aren’t collapsing in a game of ‘Zenga Jenga’ as they so often were under Rolando Maran.
Sunday’s game was not the one in which to judge his knowledge or ability after Andrea Carboni was sent off in giving away the penalty that won the game for Atalanta., leaving Zenga with little choice but to consolidate and to avoid a thumping and that they did.
The Bergamaschi have blown away many an opponent this year, but 10-man Cagliari refused to become another statistic and they even appeared to have taken the lead until Giovanni Simeone’s goal was ruled out after a VAR check.
What Zenga has done is utilise the strengths of the side that were already there, attacking from wide with the full-backs playing key roles in the Isolani going forward, as was the case under Maran.
The difference being that the new man in charge has changed the formation to a 3-5-2 which enables the likes of Federico Mattiello – a no-go under Maran – to break forward time after time while ensuring that they are no longer susceptible to counter attacks with the three centre backs sitting solid.
Maran’s 4-4-2 formation complete with midfield triangle had been exploited each and every time they went forward as there wasn’t enough cover at the back, especially when Luca Cigarini was deployed as a deep lying midfielder and even more so when the energetic Marko Rog wasn’t fit and wasn’t able to try his best to plug those holes.
No more Luca Pellegrini playing as a left winger with his fellow defenders being overran and outnumbered on the counter-attack as Cigarini struggled to get around the pitch to provide adequate cover.
Radja Nainggolan, Nahitan Nandez and Rog form a formidable triangle in the middle of the park, sat tightly in formation, capable of picking teams apart seeing as they are all very capable ball-players and this also works well, Casteddu’s best three midfielders all in one place.
Next up for Cagliari is a trip to Florence to face Fiorentina, followed by a home showdown with relegation battling Lecce and if Zenga has his strongest eleven at his disposition, including the in form forward duo of Joao Pedro and the aforementioned Simeone then there’s every chance that Cagliari can once again push for a top 10 finish.