Gasperini’s Atalanta: A Tactical Analysis
Playing Champions League football for first time in their history and constantly giving a tough competition to the top sides of Serie A for the title, Atalanta have come a long way and the major reason behind this is their manager, Gian Piero Gasperini. Atalanta appointed Gaperini as their manager in 2016 and it has been a wonderful journey since then.
Gasperini prefers a 3 man backline formation. His preferred formations are 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2. He prefers possession based football with short passing and counter attacks. Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini is instructed to start play with back passes to the 3 centre backs to avoid loss of possession.
The centre back trio of Berat Djimsiti, Rafael Toloi and Luis Palomino are required to start the attacking build up from the back. They have very good control on the ball and are good passers. They draw opposition out of their lines and thus breaks their structure. They usually pass the balls to the wing backs, namely Robin Gosens and Hans Hateboer. The wing backs are allowed freedom and they usually push up higher the pitch providing support to the forwards. The wing backs provide width and thus stretching the opposition defence. The opposition full backs are required to go for the wide players, thus the defensive overload on the Atalanta forwards decreases. The wing backs have good stamina and are very active during the match.
Gasperini also specializes in a special type of pressing. He loves to shorten the passing lanes. The two strikers of the system, Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata move wide when Atalanta lose possession. Each one of them presses the full back of the opposition. This cuts out two passing lanes. The opposition centre backs now have very few options – either they have to play passes between them or play back to the keeper for a long pass, which might mean loss of possession. The forward passing lane is threatened due to the constant pressing of Alejandro Gomez. Blocking the passing lanes creates a major problem for the opposition and if they make a single error while passing, it would mean an easy counter for Atalanta, which gives an easy chance at scoring a goal.
The man to man press has provided Atalanta a lot of benefit. The wing backs of Atalanta would play a key role in the system. The wing backs are instructed to press the opposition wingers aggressively, so that they have no option but to pass the ball to the midfielders. But this in turn may turn out to be a fatal mistake because the Atalanta midfielders, Mario Pasalic and Marten de Roon usually sit deep in the midfield and mark the opposition midfielders. Thus, passing to them may mean loss of possession. But, the opponents become helpless as they would have to go for long balls then, which have the same risk of losing possession.
Atalanta forces their opponent to play centrally. With wing backs man marking the wingers and the strikers marking the opposition full backs, the opponent has to play down centrally. This makes it very tough to break down as the opposition has to go through Papu Gomez, Pasalic and de Roon in the midfield and then has to breach a 3 man defence to score a goal. The two central midfielders are quite good defensively and often regain possession in the middle of the pitch.
Papu Gomez is the prime playmaker of the team. Gomez maybe called the Enganche due to his excellent passing, dribbling and vision. But he is more than that of an Enganche. Enganches are relieved of defensive duties. Papu Gomez, on the other hand, actively takes part in pressing and regaining possession. He takes out defenders with him, wrecking the defensive structure and thus creating space for Ilicic and Zapata.
The attacking trio of Papu Gomez, Ilicic and Zapata have excellent coordination amongst them and they switch the positions often, making it hard for the opposition defenders to mark them. Ilicic also acts as a support striker. They often move into tight positions inside the opposition box and threaten the space.
The central midfielders attack on an alternate basis with the wing backs. This helps reserves the energy of all the players. If the wing backs are high up the pitch and fail to return, the central midfielders drop in and the side centre backs shift to the wider areas in the defence. Therefore a 5 man defense is restored. Otherwise, the central midfielders move a little wider and push forward during build ups. Every time Gasperini maintains a 5 man backline and also manages to overload the box.
This tactic has some flaws. But these are not flaws on the part of the manager. The system requires world class forwards, very good defenders and excellent central midfielders with good defensive skills. But, Gasperini was not provided with such facilities. The team still doesn’t have very good defenders or excellent central midfielders, but Gasperini has succeeded in pushing the team to the limits and very soon, maybe the whole Atalanta team would become world class. Gasperini has done an excellent job at the club and cemented his position as one of the top managers of the world at the moment.
Atlanta face a tough test against PSG in the Champions League at the moment but nobody is ruling them out of the competition so easily. Atlanta has already scored 98 goals this season in 37 league games with an average of 2.65 goals in each game. This scoring record can prove to be fatal for PSG in a one legged tie in the Champions League.