• Johnathan Wright

Does Atalanta Have the Tactics of the Future?

  • Atalanta defeat Liverpool 2-0 in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League


Atlalanta went from being a mid-table team in Serie A to being one minute away from being in the Champions League semi-finals. They have not made much noise at the start of their 2020 campaign, but today we see another sign of their potential, as they took down Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool 2-0 in the Champions League Group stage, spoiling Liverpool's chance to clinch their early ticket to the sixteen.

Atalanta's entire team comes to a total of around $36 million in salary (1). To put that in context, Neymar alone makes that same amount. So how does this low budget team continue to compete with the rest of Europe's powerhouses? Their coach, Gian Piero Gasperini, has brought in unique tactics that take advantage of some recent analytical findings.

In all sports, analytics encourages aggression. We see this in basketball with the number of attempted three-pointers, and football with the encouragement to go for it on 4th downs. We are now starting to see that same trend in soccer. Many teams are beginning to high-press, including Atalanta. They play in a 3-5-2 and try to win the play as high up the field as they can. Their high pressing style is nearly man-marking, where they encourage the team to play the ball to the outside back, and once that happens, Atalanta will squeeze the field, forcing the opposing team to play centrally. The way this looks is that Atalanta's fullbacks man-mark the opposing team's wingers, and the Atalanta wingers will press heavily to the opposing team once they receive the ball. When the ball gets played centrally, Atalanta then meets it with their three center-mids to break up the play. This marking tactic is very productive when everyone is on the same page, but if one player misses his mark, the whole team can break down. To see an example of when it breaks down, go back and re-watch the previous meeting of Atalanta and Liverpool at Anfield.

What makes Atalanta exciting is the way they play offensively. They scored 98 goals last season, achieving the most ever in a Serie A season (2). Their goal is to play for short passes and counter-attacks by interchanging positions. The midfielders will rotate for who goes into the attack with the two forwards. If the wing-backs get pushed up too high in the offensively third, then the defensive-mids will slide back onto the defense and have the wings backs retreat into the middle. This position interchanging and rotation allows for Atalanta to create numerical advantages throughout the field while retaining their shape and maintaining their stamina to attack the opposing team at a high pace.

The strategy is not perfect, and it needs disciplined and talented midfield and wing-back players. But Atalanta made the UCL quarterfinals using these tactics and with a very low budget squad. If a European super house or even a mid-budget organization took on Gasperini tactics, we could start to see teams winning silverware consistently with a three back system.

1. Nlbem, A. (2020, August 15). PSG vs Atlanta in revenue: Neymar earns as much as Atalanta’s squad. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://businessday.ng/bd-weekender/article/psg-vs-atlanta-in-revenue-neymar-earns-as-much-as-atalantas-squad/
2. Most goals in a season (Individual Team) Serie A. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.statbunker.com/alltimestats/MostTeamGoalsInSeason?comp_code=SA 

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