Every season in Europe, we see a team that brings joy to the crowd, a neutrals favourite, a surprise package, a team that everybody wants to see win because it’s their favourite underdog. The underdog story has continued for Atalanta and very nicely too. They’ve deserved every bit of praise for their football as much as for the results they’ve achieved with it. They clearly have what we all look for in every football side: Attack, Attack & Attack!
Italian football has been in transition in recent seasons and while we’ve seen only one team (Juventus) dominate Serie A, the rest have tried ways to modify their systems and style to improve their challenge. The result? Some very impressive attacking football. It’s no surprise that even Roberto Mancini’s Azzuri plays entertaining football.
So now we come to Atalanta, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta. The team that has finished third in Serie A with a goal tally of 98 scored (22 more than Champions Juventus). Indeed, both Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri have been quoted in their praise for the Bergamo based club stating “They’re a difficult side to play”.
Gasperini likes to set his side up in a 3-4-2-1. Josep Ilicic has been a revelation with 15 goals from 26 matches. But their main man is Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez. The diminutive playmaker has been key to Atalanta’s success and if not marked can damage opposition with clever runs and key passes (7 goals and 14 assists this season).
The flanks are covered by Wing backs that provide defensive cover as well as attacking numbers (keep an eye on Dutch player Ruben Gosens). Gasperini’s side are renowned for creating overloads on the flanks and while their defense in the weak link, the coach has stubbornly believed in his philosophy to be the best formula. Atalanta will definitely attack PSG from the get go.
A lot has happened in the French capital since the break. To be frank, a lot has happened all season. The side from the French capital have never been away from the odd rumor or controversy. And with all that comes the added pressure to succeed in Europe. Titles such as Ligue, Coupe de la ligue and Coupe de France are not enough. The fans (and the hierarchy) want the Champions League.
Over the years, we’ve seen some very interesting signings in terms of coaches: Carlo Ancellotti, Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery. It is interesting because the task ahead was never gonna be easy especially when you have players signed or local favourites of the caliber of Neymar, Mbappe and Verratti. When you look at PSG’s spending spree, Nasser al Khelaifi’s choice of coaches has been very interesting indeed.
So enter the fray, Thomas Tuchel. A very talented coach with a colorful personality. Throughout his career, beginning with Stuttgart, continuing with Mainz and Dortmund, Tuchel has been renowned for being an astute tactician with a focus on attacking football and youth development. He’s a strict disciplinarian too and he’s proved his mettle with the way he’s handled a dressing room with big names.
Tuchel’s teams like to play aggressive attacking systems that can modify their formations when needed during game play. The tactical set ups can begin with a 4-2-3-1, 4-2-2-2 or a 4-3-3. He’s also played 3 at the back as well and his push for Neymar to play a more withdrawn roaming number 10 has been very impressive and reflects his acute ability to read his players positional discipline (or lack thereof).
It is fair to say that many of the players have shown a lot of improvement individually and mentally the team looks strong in big matches as was noted in their home win against his former side Dortmund. PSG has plenty of individual match winners but if there’s someone they can count on to make a difference it will definitely be their coach who it can be said, does not seem wanting in confidence.
We can expect Gasperini’s Atalanta to set themselves up in their usual 3-4-2-1 system which will switch to a 3-4-1-2 with the wing backs closing down space and perhaps creating overloads to stop the creativity coming from their opponents. But the backline is weak. Certainly if their midfield is bypassed and the defense is exposed (as was the case against Inter Milan).
PSG have injuries to some key personnel (even Tuchel fractured his fifth metatarsal). They’ll be without Verratti, and while reports are Mbappe might be declared fit for the game, it will be unlikely for him to start the match. The midfield battle will be crucial.
Atalanta: P. Gollini, B. Djimsiti, R. Toloi, J. Palomino, H. Hateboer, R. Gosens, M. De Roon, R. Freular, Alejandro Gomez, D. Zapata, Josep Ilicic
PSG: Keylar Navas, T. Kehrar, Thiago Silva, P. Kimpembe, Marquinhos, J. Bernat, I. Gueye, K. Mbappe, Neymar, Mauro Icardi, L. Paredes.
This could be a long match with possibly a lot of goals. The longer it gets the more it will turn into a chess game and Tuchel is an expert. PSG could nick the winner in extra time: 1-2 PSG for the win and advancing to the Semifinals.