If Atalanta fans felt as though they were dreaming when the 2018/19 season concluded, the 2019/20 has come and gone without them waking up yet.
La Dea have managed to defy the odds again and, for the second straight season, qualify for the Champions League with another third-place finish.
Another record points tally was reached – this time smashing through their 2016/17 best of 72 to hit 78 – as they finished within five points of champions Juventus and they scored an astounding 98 goals – 17 more than Italy’s next best attack.
Outside of Italy they made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League where they led Paris Saint-Germain only to fall in stoppage time, and all of this has been achieved while their city of Bergamo has been Italy’s hardest hit by COVID-19, adding even more emotion to what they’ve done on the pitch.
Player of the Season: Papu Gomez
It couldn’t be anyone other than their captain who outdid even his own high standards of creativity this season.
Papu Gomez racked up a remarkable 16 assists in Serie A and Atalanta wouldn’t be the side they are without him.
Only Luis Alberto’s 15 came close to the No.10’s tally by the end of the season, but there’s no one player in Italian football who is more important to their side.
Gomez does everything for Atalanta – he creates, scores, organises and defends. On top of that, he’s become an honorary citizen of the city of Bergamo “for having given importance to Bergamo in Europe, distinguished himself as a professional, and rejecting other offers to commit to Atalanta’s cause”, and is one of very few players in Italy who has his name sung by his club’s ultras.
Towards the end of 2018/19 and throughout 2019/20, the Argentine showed a different side to his game as he regularly looked to drop into much deeper positions than he had previously done and often found himself sitting between Remo Freuler and Marten de Roon to get on the ball and orchestrate from behind.
His games away to Sassuolo and Parma stand out, but Atalanta’s captain delivers high-level performances on a more regular basis than most in Serie A, which saw him named by Lega Serie A as the division’s best midfielder.
Best signing: Luis Muriel
When Luis Muriel arrived in Bergamo from Sevilla, via Fiorentina, his role at the club wasn’t exactly clear.
His countryman Duvan Zapata had ended the previous season as the Nerazzurri’s top scorer and looked unlikely to be displaced in the starting XI.
And so it proved. Duvan continued as the first-choice centre-forward, but the new No.9 managed to end the season as joint top scorer, equalling Zapata’s 18 goals despite starting just 10 times.
It all started in the very first round of fixtures as Muriel came off the bench at SPAL and scored twice as Atalanta came from 2-0 behind to win 3-2 in Ferrara.
Muriel averaged a goal every 69 minutes of football and can end the season with a sense of importance that few backup players at any club can be justified in feeling.
The Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini
Atalanta’s four best ever points totals in Serie A – 78, 72, 69 and 60 – have all come under Gian Piero Gasperini since his 2016 appointment, smashing the 52-point ceiling that hung over them.
The coach keeps setting a high bar and, somehow, surpassing the standards that would have been considered unmatchable in Bergamo before he took over.
Just like his captain Papu, Gasperini is another that the Bergamaschi have taken to warmly and another who has been given the freedom of the city, highlighting just how important he is to Atalanta’s success.
Again similarly to his No.10, he often hears the ultras sing his name, which is something that few, if any, other Serie A coaches can say.
His 3-4-3, 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 has delivered incredible success to Bergamo and as long as he’s still in the job there doesn’t seem to be any limit on what the club can achieve.
In a season that saw Atalanta score seven goals in three different matches, six once and five twice, picking out just one memorable moment shouldn’t be so easy to do.
Add to that their derby double over fierce rivals Brescia, winning 3-0 away and 6-2 at home in the first Lombardy derbies in 14 years.
But their 5-0 hammering of AC Milan in December stands above anything else they did this season and it sent them into the Christmas break on a huge high after securing progression to the Champions League’s knockout rounds just 11 days earlier as well.
Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic were at their clinical best and they sent the Rossoneri packing and even reduced Gianluigi Donnarumma to tears.
That result, paired with Atalanta playing their Champions League games at Milan’s Stadio San Siro, will be used by those in Bergamo for years to come in an attempt to remind their near neighbours of their recent superiority over them.
La Dea haven’t had the most reliable of backlines this season, despite their defensive record showing them to have the fifth best in Serie A.
Their insatiable appetite for goals often sees them exposed at the back, but if they weren’t so keen to commit their defenders forward they probably wouldn’t score so many at the other end.
But there were a couple of slips, particularly at home, this past season that Gasperini will want to iron out in 2020/21 and, if he succeeds, that could help them to mount a serious title push.
Home losses to Cagliari and SPAL are hard to comprehend, as is the draw to struggling Genoa in Bergamo.