Although SB Nation doesn’t have an Atalanta blog, we’ve still got access to experts on la Dea. Enter Nigel Mannering, who runs the AtalantaNow twitter feed and hosts a very good podcast as well. He was kind enough to answer some dumb questions I pitched to him and give us some insight to how things look from the Bergamo side of the aisle.
Viola Nation: How focused are Atalanta on the Coppa Italia? Is the emphasis more on hanging onto 6th and avoiding the Europa play-in game (and maybe even pipping AC Milan and AS Roma to the final Champions League spot), or is the plan to win everything no matter what?
Nigel Mannering: Its 56 years since we won the Coppa Italia and its right at the top of the agenda for us at the moment. We are still looking to be as strong as possible in the league, Gasperini said today he wants us to end Torino’s European chances this weekend so we are focus on both counts. I would love to see us pip Milan to a Champions League spot and beat them in the Coppa Italia final, what a fantastic end to the season that would be!
VN: With that in mind, how much is Gian Piero Gasperini likely to rotate his side ahead of this one, given that it’s sandwiched between clashes with top-half sides in Torino and Sampdoria? Basically, I’m asking if Viola fans should steel themselves for Josip Iličić and/or Gianluca Mancini to score.
NM: I think we will see some rotation and maybe one or two rested ahead of the game in Florence. The squad was announce for Torino and there is no Papu Gomez or Marten de Roon. Coming between Torino and Samp is not ideal for us, this would have been a great week to be playing Chievo! Viola fans can certainly expect Ilicic or Mancini to find the net, we all now what its like when former players come back and bite us and these two have a really good goal scoring record this season.
VN: What the heck is Gasper’s secret? How does he keep this team in the European places despite being valued about half as much as the other teams in the top seven?
NM: We have been consistent in both team selection and tactics for a long time under Gasp. We are not scared to take on the sides people consider better than us. We never park the bus, we press high and look to win the ball back quickly and then keep it. I think what it all comes down to is Gasp having a good eye for players than can fit his system. Most of his signing have hit the ground running. One observation that backs this up is that at both Genoa and Atalanta players Gasperini has sold have never reached the same heights as they side under his stewardship.
VN: Returning to more immediate matters, who’s been impressing for la Dea of late? Anyone you think is primed for a big game based on form or matchup? Conversely, has anyone been underperforming of late?
NM: For me personally its been Tim Castagne and Hans Hateboer. They work hard getting up and down the pitch have a made huge contributions in attack and defence. Castagne scored a stunning goal against Juve he made himself and both him and Hans have goals and assists recently. The amount of times Hateboer has got on the end of a Castagne cross is bonkers! Freuler and de Roon are always solid. Ilicic is inconsistent, as you will know, but when he is on it he is beautiful and if he plays like he did against Milan recently he will give you serious problems.
VN: Are there any Fiorentina players you’re anxious about facing? Any areas that the Viola should look to exploit, if you were to have a word in Stefano Pioli’s ear? 6. Finally, let’s do some prognostication. What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’s the overall pattern of the match?
NM: Luis Muriel. I think this is a rock solid signing for you and I look forward to seeing what he can bring to the Viola in the remainder of the season. Muriel is a player I like and watching him and Duvan Zapata face off will be good fun. Other than Muriel, Chiesa is the obvious danger, a very creative player who could hurt us. He has already this season and he is a player who will most likely feature of the Azzurri for the next 10 years. I look forward to when he designs the Italian Olympic Diving teams outfits in a few years time (Yes, I am still banging on about it, sorry). If Fiorentina want to beat us in the Coppa Italia then they need to get the ball off of us and press us high. I think we are going to see a very, very tight couple of games. Two tense games, not many chances and a battle of midfield dominance. A place in the final is up for grabs and we both want it badly. I will go for a 1-1 draw in Florence, a 1-1 draw in Bergamo, and the longs extra time of all of our lives!
Everyone please join me in extending a warm welcome and a big thank you to Nige, who’s just excellent as he could be and has been a delight to work with on this. And seriously, check out the podcast.