Gian Piero Gasperini fielded an unusual Atalanta XI on Sunday, though it was one that earned all three points against Hellas Verona at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. A penalty from Ruslan Malinovskyi and a goal from Duvan Zapata were enough to seal a deserved win.
The first and most surprising fact about the lineup was that La Dea were playing with a back four and that full-backs were nowhere to be seen. Rather than the presence of Joakim Maehle and Robin Gosens, Rafael Toloi and Berat Djimisti were on either side.
Midfielder Marten de Roon would drop deep in between defenders, more specifically between Jose Palomino and Djimisti. That would then give freedom for the latter and Toloi to move up the pitch with more freedom.
On the other side of midfield, Remo Freuler would roam around on the right, creating a passing triangle with Toloi and Cristian Romero, leaving Matteo Pessina the freedom to move freely around the pitch.
All of that meant that the Nerazzurri always had a passing option to move forward and create danger. It all proved fruitful as they ended the 90 minutes with 16 attempts, six of which were on target. While the hosts only managed three with only one coming in between the posts.
Another unusual instance was the name of Duvan Zapata on the score sheet. The Colombian had failed to find the net since the 21st of February against Napoli in Serie A, exactly a month earlier.
His quality has been douted as his countryman Luis Muriel is seen on the score sheet more often, with a scoring frequency of 60 minutes, the best in Serie A.
Zapata’s goal on the weekend was his 10th of the season in Serie A, two of which have come of the bench, compared to Muriel’s 16. And in all competitions, the comparison is 14 to 20, with the No.9 again outscoring the No.91.
A six-goal difference might set Muriel quite above the 29-year-old, however, he might not bring more to the table. Or in other words, Zapata offers more, despite his recent drought, than most would think.
One of his main obstacles is that he is constantly in the shadows of Muriel and Josip Ilicic. Though, individually, Zapata is a very special player. Amongst his 14 goals are three in the Champions League, just as many as Muriel, he also has seven assists in the Serie A, and one goal in the Coppa Italia – the same as the No.9.
Against sides in the top half of the table, Muriel has three goals and three assists while Duvan managed to find the net seven times and provided two assists.
Zapata is physically superior, able to cope with higher quality defense lines, hence the long passes constantly directed towards him. The most recent example was against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Granted, Muriel was the only scorer, though from a freekick. Aside from the goal, La Dea had hit the target four times, two of which were through Zapata, who was the most threatening player and he had only come on in the second half.