By Leo Linden
One of the Serie A’s oldest clubs is finally making a move towards the top of the table. In more than 100 years of existence, Atalanta B.C. has never finished above fifth place in the Italian top flight and has only qualified for European football once. This season, for the first time in a few decades, Atalanta could be in position to equal or better both of those achievements as the club could find itself in relatively uncharted waters, which would be a huge step in the right direction for the budding side. However, if they truly want to compete with the elite Italian squads, Atalanta must forge their way through a couple of tough upcoming fixtures that will prove to be big measuring sticks for the team ahead of what could be an exciting second half of the season.
Founded 109 years ago, Atalanta has never had much first division success despite having spent the majority of their history in the Serie A. The first time La Dea (the Goddess) competed in the top flight was in 1937 after a slow eight-year ascent from their inaugural Italian league season in 1929. They started life in Serie A poorly, however, as they were relegated in their first campaign. They found their way back to the top flight in 1940 and were able to stick around until 1973, only suffering one quick relegation and immediate promotion along the way in 1959. During that run, Atalanta had their aforementioned best finish ever in the league in 1948 as well as their only piece of major silverware to date, the 1963 Coppa Italia.
However, the ‘70s and ‘80s were a period of difficulty for La Dea as they tumbled down the table, falling all the way to the Serie C1 (the third tier) in 1981. They made it back to the top flight in 1984, but ever since their return to Serie A, they have had a tough time holding on for long periods of time. A brief spike in that period saw the club’s most notable foray in Europe, getting knocked out of the quarterfinals of the 1990-91 UEFA Cup (now the Europa League).
However, the European success was not enough to keep the club relevant domestically, and the club has been relegated (and earned subsequent promotions) six times since 1984, most recently in 2010, although that drop turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In 2011, sitting in the Serie B, Atalanta went through an ownership change and immediately won their way back to the top flight.
They haven’t given up their spot since, even after being docked points in multiple seasons during the Calciopoli scandal. Now, for the first time in almost three decades, Atalanta is not toeing the line between the top two flights, but rather pushing their
The team's success this year has been largely due to a few exciting talents that have been supported by some quality play from the squad’s supporting characters. The midfield is absolutely stacked with goal-scoring talent, which is surprisingly headed by 20-year-old Ivorian Franck Kessie, who leads the team with six goals. Alejandro Gomez and Jasmin Kurtic, a pair of attacking midfielders who sit in front of Kessie, each have five goals, while Gomez has added a team-leading four assists as well. Then, there’s another young promising talent up top in Italian Andrea Petagna, who at just 21-years-old has tacked on three goals and three assists of his own as well.
The defense is equally as youthful, with a pair of 22-year-olds, Mattia Caldara and Andrea Conti, getting help from veteran Andrea Masiello, who has been a rock in the center of the defense while also providing his own attacking threat to the tune of three tallies so far this season. It’s safe to say that it has been a whole squad effort to get La Dea to where they are now, but their ambitions will truly be tested in the coming weeks.
First, they will meet league leaders Juventus in the Coppa Italia Round of 16 in Turin. It’s a nightmare of a draw for La Dea, but they will be able to play loose knowing little is expected from them in the tie. A win, though, would be a major, unexpected accomplishment for the club and would put them just three victories away from their second ever cup triumph.
However, right after they travel to the Old Lady, Atalanta will again be on the road in another critical
However, they also have one more major hurdle to deal with this month with the potential loss of two of their starlets to richer clubs. Kessie has been linked with a move to England (and is gone for the month on African Cup of Nations duty) while 22-year-old midfielder Roberto Gagliardini appears to be on his way up the food chain to join Inter Milan.
If they can hang on to the rest of their talent, Atalanta could find itself well positioned for the run in. They might still be a bit too inexperienced to make a run all the way to the Champions or Europa League, but as of now, Atalanta have a chance to do so. And, if they can keep hold of their top assets for the foreseeable future, they just might hang around near the top of the Serie A for the long haul.