Atalanta Avventura: Part 2 – European ventures

The 2018/19 season began very early indeed for the Atalanta boys, kicking off with a Euro Cup Best Placed 2nd Qualifying Round clash in Jerusalem.

We were taking on Beitar Jerusalem and, with zero idea what my best team was or what formation I wanted to play, I was happy with a 1-1 draw in Israel, thanks to a Duvan Zapata goal.

One week later, and with no friendly matches to get the lads up to speed, the Israelis came to our place, and we promptly spanked them 5-1. Talisman Alejandro Gomez got things rolling then youngster Alessandro Cortinovis, who looks a real talent, bagged a brace, before midfield paring Remo Freuler and Mario Pasalic finished off the rout.

We were safely through, and next up in the long run towards the Euro Cup proper was Hacken, the Swedish side most famous for being Championship Manager legend Kimi Kallstrom’s first club. We went to Sweden in the first leg and won 2-0, thanks to goals from Zapata and another youth prospect in midfielder Matteo Pessina. Then we finished things off at home with a 3-0 success, with Gomez scoring and missing a penalty, then holding midfielder Maarten de Roon and Freuler seeing things off before half-time.

That took us to the end of August and the start of Serie A, in which we were drawn at home to Fiorentina in the first game of the season. We went into the game without left-back Robin Gosens, who carried a suspension into it, but went ahead inside 20 minutes through Pasalic. They had a man sent off on 74 minutes and I thought things were looking good, but four minutes later they equalised through Giovanni Simeone – of course they did – and we were unable to find a winner. But still, a solid start to the campaign against a decent side.

The final round of Euro Cup qualifiers took us to Braga, where we managed to hold onto a 1-0 lead given to us by Zapata. And we repeated that feat in the second leg, with Gomez this time sending us through to the Group Stages. Then we got a pretty sticky draw, alongside Sporting Lisbon and Burnley, and likely whipping boys Akhisarspor.

League form picksĀ up

With European football confirmed, attention turned to the league and we got our game going with a 2-0 win at AS Roma. I went defensive, held them off for 80 minutes, then struck with two late goals from substitutes Antonio Marin and Musa Barrow. I was chuffed with my late changes and suddenly enthused about what this team could possibly achieve.

The good form continued as we beat Sampdoria 2-1 at home, but then two defeats at Torino and Sassuolo were sandwiched by a European defeat at Burnley – apparently my Bergamo boys can’t do it on a Thursday night in Burnley – and a more pleasing 1-1 draw at home to Napoli.

Things picked up in October with three consecutive league wins without conceding, but a defeat to Sporting and then a 1-0 loss at Chievo – despite outshooting them 18-4 – took the gloss off it. We did hammer Akhisarspor 4-0 though.

Two huge wins for the club

Going into November we were just above mid-table, but this proved to be the month that offered a catalyst for future form. A 1-0 win over Lazio, thanks to the returning from injury Emiliano Rigoni, was followed up with a 3-0 win in Turkey and a 0-0 draw in Genoa. But then a hugely unexpected turn of events took place.

Juventus were in town, and I was worried. I went a little more defensive, but it seemed to kickstart our attack into overdrive. Pasalic gave us an eight minute lead, Gomez doubled it eight minutes, then another eight minutes later and unbelievably we were 3-0 up through Musa Barrow’s first goal of the season. Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira and co were having their pants pulled down, but it got even worse nine minutes after half-time as Rigoni added a fourth. 4-0 up on Juve, it was unheard of and, despite a late Federico Bernardeschi double, I was elated with the huge win.

But that was followed by a trip to Inter Milan. So I stuck with the defensive approach and we held on for half-time goalless, but four minutes after the break Mauro Icardi inevitably struck and I feared the worse. Yet me of little faith, as we yet again struck late with two goals in the last ten minutes from Rugani and Zupata to record superb back-to-back wins.

Having crashed out of the Euro Cup, we also picked up a 1-1 draw with AC Milan and recorded victories over Frosinone and Parma to see us into 2019 threatening the top six. The Atalanta boys were performing well beyond the levels I expected and I was loving life in Bergamo.

Next time, join us as we complete the season in Bergamo as we look to push on towards the top six.

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