Most weekends you’ll see Serie A fans tweeting three words: “always watch Atalanta”.
It’s no surprise. The Bergamo club have not only come to represent David against the Goliaths of the Italian football establishment, but they’ve done so in ludicrously entertaining fashion.
Last season, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side netted 98 league goals as they raced to third place for a second successive season.
And they’ve picked up where they left off so far in 2020/21, scoring eight in their opening two games away to Torino and Lazio to collect maximum points.
But their victory in Rome on Wednesday was something different from the norm.
This wasn’t the swashbuckling, helter-skelter football that we are used to seeing from Atalanta.
The scoreline may have suggested another no-filter, gung-ho attacking display from La Dea, but the reality was a performance defined by a clinical cutting edge that should strike fear into the hearts of their rivals.
Atalanta and Lazio don’t like each other. It’s a recent rivalry, fuelled by their battles for the top four in recent seasons, the Biancocelesti’s 2019 Coppa Italia final victory and Lazio’s remarkable comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 in their meeting in Rome last season.
Wednesday’s clash was more about steel than style. The tackles flew in and shoves and shouts were as common as shots.
The visitors may have experienced a growing fear when Felipe Caicedo pulled one back to make it 3-1 and Ciro Immobile was inches away from closing the gap just minutes later, but there was to be no heroic turn of events this time.
Atalanta weren’t dominant, yet they came away with a dominant result. The Nerazzurri had just 39.5 per cent possession and made 317 passes to Lazio’s 526.
But the most telling stat was that the two sides had six shots on target each. Lazio put one in the net, Atalanta scored four – and they were all good finishes too.
This brutally efficient composure in front of goal turned what was otherwise a well-balanced encounter into a hammering.
It served as a lesson to Lazio, who were guilty of spurning chances in their 2-0 win over Cagliari before doing so again against Atalanta.
But it made a compelling case for why La Dea should not be counted out of this season’s Scudetto race.
They didn’t need a thousand chances to beat Lazio, they just needed to make the most of the few they created.
And while Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi was left lamenting avoidable defensive errors for some of the goals his side conceded, there were no such concerns in the visiting camp.
It was the kind of clinical, professional dismantling that few teams in Serie A would be capable of, and that Atalanta aren’t necessarily known for.
The kind that makes you wonder: what’s stopping them from pushing for the title?
Lazio need more bodies
Inzaghi has been left frustrated by the summer transfer business, as Gonzalo Escalante and Pepe Reina, two players who were brought to bolster the squad rather than go straight into the team, were his only available arrivals by the time the season kicked off.
That has meant the same players from last season have started both of Lazio’s league games so far – the same players who collapsed so spectacularly after the coronavirus-enforced break.
Lazio were in need of some fresh impetus, a blast of energy to send them into the new campaign with renewed enthusiasm.
It hasn’t worked out that way, but after the international break we should finally see a new-look squad in action.
Marquee summer signing Vedat Muriqi landed in Rome yesterday after recovering from COVID-19, while attacking midfielder Andreas Pereira looks set to arrive from Manchester United.
Two new attackers will be a huge boost for Inzaghi, who should also have the long-awaited signings of wing-back Mohamed Fares and centre-back Wesley Hoedt confirmed soon.
The problem for Lazio is that they can’t afford to simply wait for the new bodies to spark an upturn.
A defeat to Atalanta is one thing, but Inter are next on Sunday night and losing back-to-back games against two top four rivals would be a bitter, and potentially damaging, blow to their ambitions for the season.
Inzaghi needs his old boys to step up immediately – he can’t afford to wait for the cavalry.