Atalanta went into 2019 pushing towards the top six after a couple of strong victories over Juventus and Inter Milan. But that set expectations to keep pushing high through the remainder of the season, especially with Euro Cup involvement out the window.
I was slightly concerned about our defensive strength, so I moved on the ineffective Jose Luis Palomino to LOSC for £2.8 million then right-back Hans Hateboer, who seemed decent but couldn’t get into the side ahead of Davide Calabria, to Valencia for a tasty £10.5 million and backup player Arkadiusz Reca to Lech for £500k.
In their place came what I thought would be an improved centre-back in the form of Real Madrid loanee Jesus Vallejo, then 17-year-old Spanish regen Raul Zubillaga for £2.3 million from Osasuna – leaving me with plenty of spare cash come the summer.
Key player exit sparks decline
The year began with Italian Cup progression against Brescia, then solid 1-1 draws with Fiorentina and AS Roma, and an impressive 5-2 cup win over Inter. That was followed up with another good 2-1 win at Sampdoria through goals from another exciting young midfielder Luca Valzania and Duvan Zapata.
But an Italian Cup semi-final defeat to Juventus – 1-0 over two legs, which I thought was pretty good – brought a real slump in form of just one win in eight games, including defeats at Torino – who I swear are my Italian bogey team and, specifically, Andrea Belotti – and Bologna.
At the time all this was happening I’d had a flurry of bids from China for my talismanic left-winger Alejandro Gomez. I didn’t want to sell, especially as he was a team leader in addition to bagging a load of goals, but the money eventually offered made it a no-brainer. The 31-year-old was sold to Jiangsu for a much-needed £26 million.
We then went on a run of four consecutive matches without scoring, of which three were 0-0 draws, and I was worried that I’d ruined the dynamic of the team with the sale of a key player. We soon picked up with an impressive 2-1 win at Lazio thanks to goals from Musa Barrow and Antonio Marin, only for Inter to get their own back with a 4-0 win at Stadio di Bergamo, with Mauro Icardi bagging a brace.
Ending on a high
We were embroiled in a five-team dogfight for fifth down to ninth position in the league, so the team thankfully picked up as the season drew to a close.
We bounced back from the Inter defeat with a 2-1 home win over Udinese, with Marin sealing the three points after Marco Varnier had put us ahead. Then a Maarten de Roon goal earned us a vital 1-1 draw at fellow Euro Cup challengers AC Milan.
And that saw us kick into the life and end the season with three straight victories. Josip Ilicic made a return from five months out with a damaged Achilles to score a brace that sunk SPAL, and Musa Barrow edged us a 1-0 win at Frosinone before bagging a hat-trick as we ended finished the season in style with a 4-1 victory over Parma. Excitingly for me, 17-year-old striker Lorenzo Bertini – who looks a superb prospect – came off the bench and scored on his debut to seal the win.
That late flurry of wins saw us end the season in a highly respectable sixth position, earning qualification to the Euro Cup without the need for a mass of qualifiers this time around.
Barrow finished as top goalscorer with a respectable 15 goals in all competions for a 20-year-old, while left-back Robin Gosens led the assist charts with 14 and had our top average rating of 7.27.
Join us next time as we welcome back a whole host of loan players and a likely supremely busy second summer Transfer Window.