Ahead of Everton’s first UEFA Europa League group stage clash with Atalanta on Thursday, we caught up with Gaetano Mocciaro, a journalist for Italian site Tuttomercatoweb, to find out more about the Serie A outfit. Gaetano, Atalanta finished fourth in the league last year. How big an achievement was that?
It was the biggest surprise in Serie A last season, because it’s 26 years since Atalanta last qualified for Europe. Some time ago it was players such as Claudio Caniggia and Glenn Strömberg but now the policies have changed in Atalanta. They try to develop the youth players in the academy.
But Atalanta have lost some players. In the summer, they sold the most brilliant youngster, Franck Kessie, for a lot of money - more than €20 million - to AC Milan and the full-back Andrea Conti also made the same move to Milan.
Mattia Caldara signed for Juventus - but has been loaned back to Atalanta for one year, while Roberto Gagliardini was sold to Inter for €30 million in January.
It’s a blow to lose those players but Atalanta still have a brilliant team and they have a great academy. Every year there are young players coming through who are very strong. How important has the manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, been to Atalanta’s success?
Gian Piero Gasperini was a huge part of the success last season. He had done great work with Genoa before he joined Atalanta in the summer of 2016. He took Genoa to the UEFA Cup and Europa League some years ago and last season with Atalanta, he played brilliant football with the club’s young players.
He likes his teams to play good, attacking football but it will be interesting to see the teams copes with losing a lot of players over the summer.
How can we expect to see Atalanta line-up and what are their normal tactics?
Atalanta like to play a 3-4-3 formation, with three defenders, four midfielders and three strikers. It’s a pretty offensive system and Alejandro Gomez, one of the attackers, key to it.
Which Atalanta players should we look out for?
Alejandro Gómez is the best player for Atalanta. He is very technical and Atalanta was able to take him ahead of AC Milan, Lazio and Roma, who also wanted him. He will be the number one danger for Everton and for all the teams that face Atalanta because he scores goals, he is able to take free-kicks and creates chances as well.
Looking at other players to watch out for, Andrea Petagna is the central striker, a pretty strong guy and it’s very difficult for defenders to face him. English fans may be more familiar with Marten de Roon, who played at Middlesbrough last year and he’s one of the best midfielders of this team. Plus, Josip Ilicic, he has great skills but can be inconsistent, so I’m sure Everton will be hoping to catch him on an off-day! When he has a great day, he has a very good left foot and he’s very great for long shots, also for free kicks.
I can say also their defensive work is excellent. They took an experienced player, Rafael Tolói, from Brazil, and Caldara, who can be the new star of defence for Italy for the next 10 years.
What can you tell us about the Atalanta fans?
Of course, the game will actually be played at the Mapei Stadium, which is the home of Sassuolo and about a two-hour drive from the Atalanta stadium.
Atalanta has one of the most passionate fanbases in Italy. As you can see, some Italian stadiums are half empty, but in Atalanta, in Bergamo, that doesn’t happen especially because they will play great teams.
Everton is the most important group match for Atalanta. Everybody will want to see Wayne Rooney play as well! There will be a very passionate support for Atalanta and that can help them win the game. It will not be easy for Everton.
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I don't blame you mine is decreasing with every poor performance I still understand that some players still have to gel together but it is starting to feel like an excuse. We still have business to do in try he transfer windows and as matches keep coming it becomes more clear that 1. Our squad is not prepared and 2. We still have weight to relieve. Now Koeman did a great job filling gaps but not replacing gaps and it might hurt us really.