Last month, we profiled how Gian Piero Gasperini masterminded a 1-0 win over Napoli with his young Atalanta side. This week, they produced arguably the best 45 minutes of football in Italy this season as they came from 1-0 down at halftime to beat Roma 2-1 in a thrilling performance at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
Relegation candidates before the season, Gasperini has now taken Atalanta to fifth and just a point behind Roma in second. After a disastrous start to the season Gasperini has trusted his young players and they are producing outstanding performances each week. Since beating Crotone on September 26th, Atalanta are unbeaten in eight, winning seven. Among the wins, Napoli, Inter, Genoa and now Roma stand out. In those eight games Atalanta have scored 15 goals and only conceded three. They play Gasperini’s 3-4-3 to perfection and the squad is full of technically gifted, energetic and hard-working players. The second half performance against Roma was spectacular, and here we take a look at how they did it.
In the first half, Roma were the better team and could have added to Diego Perotti penalty but were leading at the break. Atalanta came out extremely aggressive and pressed high straight from the start. Gasperini made a couple of changes early on, notably replacing centre back Andrea Masiello with Marco D’Alessandro and subbing Jasmin Kurtic for Remy Freuler. This allowed Franck Kessie to move up to the right forward position with the more passing-oriented Freuler joining the excellent Roberto Gagliardini in midfield. D’Alessandro came in at left wing-back with Ervin Zukanovic moving into the back three.
On every Roma goal kick, Atalanta would press like in the above image. The front three picking up the two centre-backs (Manolas and Fazio) and the left-back (Rüdiger). D’Alessandro is in a position where he can go to press Peres if need be while the two centre-midfielders pick up De Rossi and Strootman. Nainggolan is left alone in the middle because it’s a very risky pass from this setup.
Same again, but now we can see how Toloi leaves the back three to mark Nainggolan in the centre circle. Spinazzola on the right marks Perotti. Atalanta use a very man-oriented type of defending and as you will see later the centre-backs aren’t afraid of leaving their line to pick up any unmarked players. Atalanta’s pressing stopped Roma playing and they won the ball back immediately throughout the second half.
An example of the high pressing. Four players in the corner pressing Rüdiger who is forced to go long, as Roma were in the second half. The back three of Toloi, Caldara and Zukanovic would always be 2 vs 1 with Dzeko and easily win the ball and Atalanta could then attack again.
The high-pressing and man-marking worked really well, and Atalanta’s counter-pressing was highly effective as they won the ball back straight after losing it time and time again in the second half. This tactic is highly effective against Roma when they utilise the midfield three of De Rossi, Strootman and Nainggolan as they are not really astute passers. Luciano Spalletti tried to improve his team’s passing by introducing the pressing-resistant Leandro Paredes, but even he struggled and also gave away the decisive penalty.
The two teams setup meant Atalanta were left 3 vs 1 in defence but outnumbered 2 vs 3 in midfield. Gasperini solved this by allowing Toloi to step up in midfield to press or mark Nainggolan when the situation needed it. This matched the numbers in midfield while still leaving Atalanta 2 vs 1 at the back.
We can see it again here as Toloi leaves the defence to win the ball from Nainggolan.
And from this throw-in he is clearly marking the Belgian midfielder.
It wasn’t just Toloi though, Zukanovic steps up here to win the ball from Nainggolan. Every passing option is closed off by Atalanta’s man-marking, so the option is a risky pass into a midfielder with an opponent pressing him from behind or by going long. Either way, Atalanta likely win the ball. Here, Rüdiger chose the risky pass, Roma lost it and Atalanta could counter-attack.
Going forward, Atalanta’s front three tried to stretch Roma and the wing-backs pushed on to force Roma’s wingers deep. Roma became deeper and deeper and it was easy for Atalanta to come back with wave after wave with attacks. The front three was Alejandro Gomez to the left, Andrea Petagna through the centre and Kessie to the right.
Gomez (circled) was one of the standout performers on the pitch and is given somewhat of a free role at times in the attacking third. Here, he roams inside with D’Alessandro pushing forward down the side. Look at the space Gagliardini (on the ball) has in midfield. All ten Roma players in their own last third.
In the end, Caldara’s equaliser and Kessie´s winning penalty was decisive. Gasperini once again impressed with his tactical setup and his exciting young team can’t stop winning at the moment. Young players like Petagna, Kessie, Spinazzola, Andrea Conti (absent in this game), the outstanding defender Mattia Caldara and the spectacular Roberto Gagliardini are shining brightly in Bergamo and are flourishing under Gasperini. The future looks extremely bright and it’s super exciting how far this free-flowing football can take them. Currently they play the best football in Italy but it remains to be seen for how long they can keep it up.
Juventus remain top after predictably beating Pescara 3-0 at home. Khedira, Mandzukic and Hernanes scored the goals as Allegri’s men extended their lead to seven points. Pescara, however, are sinking lower and lower.
Chievo got back to winning ways after some tough weeks by beating Cagliari 1-0 at the Bentegodi. Massimo Gobbi was the hero as his strike gave Chievo the three points. Cagliari continue to vary performances from really good to really bad, and are chasing consistency.
Lorenzo Insigne was the star of the show as Napoli secured a 2-1 in Udine. Insigne scored twice early in the second half before Stipe Perica pulled one back with a beautiful header. Napoli are sixth, but are only two points behind Roma in second.
Fiorentina performed brilliantly at Empoli as Federico Bernardeschi and Josip Ilicic both scored twice as Paulo Sousa’s men continue to climb the table after a poor start. Bernardeschi has emerged as Fiorentina’s main man this season and scored a brilliant second goal. Sousa has received a lot of criticism but deserves praise for his work with Bernardeschi.
Derby della Madonnina in Milan was a great clash between the eternal rivals of the city. Suso opened the scoring with a brilliant curling effort before Antonio Candreva’s thunderbolt levelled the scoring. Suso would get his second shortly after when he dribbled past Jeison Murillo before finishing with his right. In stoppage time Inter equalised when Ivan Perisic bundled home from a corner. 2-2 in Stefano Pioli’s first game in charge and Inter actually looked really good at times.
Sassuolo are struggling now. For the third time this season they blew a two goal lead away at Sampdoria to lose 3-2. Sampdoria scored all goals in the final seven minutes as Sassuolo imploded. Up until the first goal conceded, Sassuolo looked really good and youngsters Lorenzo Pellegrini and Luca Mazzitelli dominated midfield with the elegant Simone Missiroli. Hard to be glad over that for coach Di Francesco though, as Sassuolo remain in the bottom five.
Andrea Belotti’s goalscoring form continues. Two goals at Crotone lifted Torino to seventh and Sinisa Mihajlovic can be really happy with how things stand for the club. Belotti’s rise this term will likely see speculation for his services already in January, with Napoli in particular looking for a centre forward.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio are quietly going about their business but after beating Genoa 3-1 are now up to fourth. The return of Lucas Biglia has seen the side become calmer in possession and their midfield with him at the base and Marco Parolo and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in front is looking really good. Lazio are a strong contender for Europe and Inzaghi is finally the brother in the spotlight.
Bologna finally won again on Mattia Destro’s return to the team. Palermo’s sensation Ilija Nestorovski scored first, but Destro equalised and goals from Blerim Dzemaili and Federico Viviani ensure three vital and welcome points for Roberto Donadoni. Palermo are really struggling though, and things doesn’t look good for Serie A’s only Sicilian side.
Player of the week
Roberto Gagliardini is growing each week and his performances against Roma was majestic. Caldara and Kessie might have gotten the goals and the headlines, but Gagliardini’s energy, passing and hard work was key to the win. A truly elegant midfield player.
Coach of the week
Simone Inzaghi’s work with Lazio has largely gone unnoticed thus far, but what a job he’s doing at the Olimpico. In strong competition with Gasperini this week, but Inzaghi’s setup was excellent against Genoa.
Goal of the week
Antonio Candreva’s superb strike in the derby at San Siro was something special.