Do you know anything about Atalanta other than that they score a lot of goals, habitually rehabilitate Fiorentina rejects, and have a rather grumpy manager? Me neither. That’s why we’re so lucky to know Nige Mannering, who not only knows everything Bergamasco but is nice enough to explain it to dummies like me. I caught up to him for a minute to ask him some questions about the Coppa Italia fixture tomorrow, and he, as ever, provided good answers. He’s a top man and writes for the Atalantini; if you’re on Twitter, give him a follow and maybe buy him a pint next time you see him.
Viola Nation: It’s been a bit of a dream season for Atalanta. Given that the Viola somehow held them to a deeply unlikely draw in Bergamo (which has to be one of the most disappointing results this year for you), can you remind us of what this Atalanta side is all about? The past 3 Serie A fixtures are probably a good place to start, because they’ve made la Dea look like the best team in the league.
Nige Mannering: I really enjoyed the draw earlier in the season. There were some stunning goals, particularly Ribery’s and with Tim’s goal right at the end it felt a bit like a win for us. Not much has changed from that encounter. You can still expect to see Gasperini’s swashbuckling 3-4-3 in all its glory. The last three games have been very interesting. Milan and Parma got battered in Bergamo while the most recent point in the San Siro against Inter produced our best football of the season. If we maintain the standard of the last three games until the end of the season then literally anything could happen. We have looked magnificent.
VN: That draw against Inter Milan looked exhausting. Do you think that Gian Piero Gasperini will rotate his side as a result, or will he roll out the same XI? Which of the 5 dynamite attackers in the side do you expect to start? Does it really even matter?
NM: It’s a good question and in fairness it’s one I have been pondering all morning. Gasperini wants to go after all the competitions as he has mentioned earlier in the season. All the competitions are of high importance to Atalanta. If we had gone out of the Champions League then my answer to this question would undoubtedly be “Full strength”. I think with upcoming fixtures we might see a bit more rotation compared to normal and possibly a couple of the Primavera stars like Traore featuring. Then again Gasp might go with Sportiello in goal with the normal rotation. Could Duvan use the minutes? There is a lot for Gasp to think about for the Fiorentina line up.
VN: The only real weakness in this Atalanta side this year has been the defense, and that’s still a top-7 unit. Have la Dea just been hurling numbers forward and exposing the back line, or is there something else—tactical, personnel-based, or otherwise—afoot?
NM: The defense is our weak spot. We don’t have much pace at the back and when we are dominating possession we can be done on the break fairly easily, Ribery’s goal against us in Parma earlier in the season being a text book example. That said attack is the best form of defense and we attack very well. I wouldn’t change a thing about the approach. Mattia Caldara was just returned from Milan and will certainly add organization and some fresh legs which will help. He looked like a top player in his previous spell with us and could have a major impact in the second half of the season.
VN: Is there anyone or anything about Fiorentina right now that worries you a little bit? Since the obvious answer is, “Nah, not really,” what is the best set of pizza toppings?
NM: Ok, this is why I love doing these Q&A’s with you! Finally a Pizza question! I sure do love pizza. I love Ham, a couple of cheeses, mushrooms and if in Bergamo a little bit of Polenta. If I am at home in the Uk and I am ordering (being lazy) I just so with the true sports enthusiast choice of Pepperoni.
VN: Prediction time: what do you think is the final score, who (if anyone) gets the goals, and what do you expect the overall tenor of the match to be? You know, besides a 90 minute curbstomping.
NM: Difficult fixture to gage really, especially when our team selection is a bit more debatable. I was a feeling we might end up with a 1-1 draw and from that point on it will be anyone’s game. I highly doubt Fiorentina will have forgotten last season’s semi final defeat so I expect us to face a highly motivated Fiorentina team. I wish you and the Viola well and enjoy the game.
Thanks, Nige, both for putting up with the barrage of questions and for not just laughing us out of the park when we suggested that this could maybe, maaaaaayyyyyyyyybbbbeeee be a good one. Although we’re still not sure about that polenta-on-pizza thing. Anyways, we’ll put that aside and just try to enjoy this one. Which, as you can tell, we’re very confident about.