As Andata turns to Ritorno, so also my attention was on the Winter Transfer Window. This will hardly be an opinion that breaks on new ground but I do firmly believe that the business you do in January defines your season’s outcome, potentially more so than what happens in summer.
JANUARY MOVES – OR LACK THEREOF
I took January cautiously, perhaps more cautiously than I should have, as you will soon see in the results in the Ritorno phase.
Firstly to outgoing transfers. Amad Diallo’s move to Manchester United was confirmed and we benefited to the tune of £23m. There were a further four permanent departures early on in January – none of whom were even remotely near to first team football so they barely warrant mentioning by name, other than to mention that brought in a further £800k to our accounts.
Eric Garcia (Manchester City) was a player I had tracked in the early part of the season in the knowledge that he was determined to leave the club on a free transfer in the summer. As January came I made my move and Garcia was keen but eventually decided his future lay with Borussia Dortmund. Fresh off the rejection, I brought in El Bilal Touré on loan from Ligue 1 Reims – an optional fee of £5m was attached.
With Touré coming in, it allowed me the chance to move Sam Lammers out on loan to our affiliate SPAL along with midfielder Matteo Pessina. In my thinking, the transaction’s benefits were simple: Lammers would have first team football to develop (albeit in the league below) and we would still have a capable backup option in Touré. Should Touré impress in his brief stints in the team then we could move to secure him full time.
I had expected that at some point we’d see a late move for one of our first team representatives and on deadline day it came – PSG wanted Martin de Roon. The Dutchman was interested in the wealthy Parisien club (heaven knows why) and I felt it wasn’t worth the hassle of rejecting the move. De Roon is a good players but was one who rotated in and out of the squad with Remo Freuler. £13.25m (rising to £17m) was agreed and de Roon left.
Normally in this situation I’d panic buy and bring in a replacement last minute. It almost happened as I got to discussing terms with Aaron Ramsey (Juventus/Zebre) with a view to a £14m move, however, I backed out on the basis that Ramsey would offer no significant future sell-on value and I could instead call up young Simone Panada instead to back up Remo Freuler.
I’ll begin with European competition and our Champions League First Knockout tie with Liverpool. Despite taking an early lead in the first leg, Liverpool proved to be too strong and completed a 4-2 aggregate win – you probably don’t need me to tell you that there was a penalty involved, it is Liverpool after all.
We fared much better in the domestic cup, firstly making an assured victory over Inter Milan at the Giuseppe Meazza before a 5-2 aggregate win against Sassuolo in the semi-final to set up a meeting with Lazio in the showpiece match. Maybe it was the influence of the match being played at Lazio’s Olimpico stadium – so much for neutral ground – although truthfully, we simply lost out to two very well taken goals. Ilicic’s early finish gave us brief hope before Immobile and Pereira stole that away.
We began the Ritorno of Serie A in fine form, claiming another point against Inter before winning three on the trot against Torino, Spezia and Crotone respectively. Bilal Touré claiming his first Atalanta goal against Spezia. Cagliari managed to complete a league double over us before we limped to a solitory goal victory at home to Benevento.
The months of March and April were decidedly less kind to us as we limped to just two wins in our next seven games. Despite that there were highlights in wins over AS Roma and Milan, with Juve actually being quite fortunate to take all three points against us.
As we entered the final straight, it was obvious that a rapid upturn in form would be required. The players responded by claiming 12 consecutive points – games which included goals in back-to-back games for 17 year old Alessio Rosa on his second and third subsitute appearances. A heavily rotated side, in anticipation of the mid-week Coppa Italia final against the same, lost convincingly to Lazio.
Back to full strength for the Sampdoria game, we were assured of at least 5th place in the league which would satisfy the board. We were joint on points with AC Milan who sat in 4th place – we were a win apiece on head to head record and AC Milan had a one goal advantage in the next deciding factor of goal difference. As it happens, these measures weren’t required as we came out firing against Sampdoria while AC Milan drew a stalemate with Benevento. Champions League football will return to the Gewiss Stadium for 2021/22!
It was a poor year for Roma and Napoli however it is Spezia, Crotone and Genoa who take the plunge down to Serie B. Juventus had to work for it but secured the league yet again.
THE VITAL STATS
I mentioned previously that I wanted to make use of a larger squad and that fact came up regularly in press conferences. The local journalists like to question me on the fact that I used a total of 30 different players across the season. Rotation is key!
José Luis Palomino played the most games with a staggering 46 appearances – 3,862 minutes in total.
We used three goalkeepers across the season. Marco Carnesecchi played just two Coppa Italia matches, keeping one clean sheet and conceding twice in the other. Marco Sportiello was my first choice to begin with and he played 26 times with 11 clean sheets and 30 conceded. Pierluigi Gollini returned from a bad injury before Christmas and was reintroduced to the squad with 23 appearances and 8 clean sheets – 26 goals conceded.
Leading the way on assists was Ruslan Malinovskyi who set up 9, managing to score just 1 for himself. Mario Pasalic set up 8 with 2 goals of his own. This is perhaps indicative of a central manner of playing. There were assists from 15 different players in total.
Duván Zapata and Josip Ilicic lead the scoring charts with 18 goals, Ilicic grabbing his from 24 starting appearances (20 sub) as opposed to Zapata’s 40 starts (5 sub). Luis Muriel wasn’t far behind with his 15 goals in 33 starts (10 sub). We had 17 different goalscorers in the season.
We were the top scorers in Serie A with 64 goals but conceded the 9th fewest with 43 passing us. Defensively there is a lot to work on.
Our home record placed us 2nd in the standings with 43 points at the Gewiss, losing just twice on our own territory. Away from home we were less impressive at 7th in the table and a goal difference of -1 on our travels.
Champions League football has been secured but I feel again that we will have to contend with interest in our players. Currently the vast majority of the first team squad are coveted by either bigger clubs in Europe or those elsewhere who are renowned for having large financial clout.
I have a current shortlist of 18 players of various positions who are on my radar. Whether I move for them or not will largely be dictated by what happens within my own squad. I have six players currently on loan at Atalanta and one is a possible for a permanent deal – defender Cristian Romero. His £15m buyout clause is almost a steal for a player of his quality. Sadly El Bilal Touré has not done enough to convince me with his 2 goals in only 4 starts and 11 sub appearances and will return to Reims.
It’s looking like the Summer of 2021 might be quite busy around Bergamo!