While the internet in general and Twitter in particular is generally a cesspit, there are a few excellent people out there doing excellent people things. One of them is Las Vegas Atalanta Supporters Group President, CEO, and social secretary (which I assume means that he’s the party chair as well) Dan Pezzotta. With that many job titles, we’re very lucky that he took time out to catch us up on la Dea ahead Fiorentina’s trip to Bergamo. Give him a follow on Twitter and maybe we’ll get him to spill some more secrets about how to make a good and fun team.
Viola Nation: . Compared to last year, it’s been a little bit of a step back for Atalanta so far, especially over the past month, as the attack has averaged “only” 2 goals a game. As a certified Dea Doctor™, what’s your diagnosis as to why?
Dan Pezzotta: Well, we started off the year like bats out of hell too, averaging 4 goals a game, but this goal scoring “sickness” is multi-faceted. First off, we’re a year older and all these Champions League make the old legs more tired. Second, Gasperini, especially in October and November, has really rotated the lineup more than usual in order to get more experience and match fitness to the new and returning (see Ilicic) players. Gasp is desperate for depth with COVID and the UCL, so we get it, but this has messed with continuity. Third, lately Duvan’s finishing has been crap. But that will only last for so long. And lastly, teams know how to frustruate us. Sit back, defend in numbers, Atalanta will still try to cutely walk it in. Then you can hit them on the break. My cure? Focusing on Serie A for the next 2 months will be the proverbial vaccine to our goal-scoring malady.
VN: We’ve heard some reports about fractures in the dressing room, with Gian Piero Gasperini and his threats to resign in one corner, while Papu Gómez and Josip Iličić face him down in the other. It’s a huge change from what seemed to be a squad that genuinely liked each other last year. What the heck is going on?
DP: Dude, the honeymoon is over. No one is holding hands while walking through the mall. There was a big disagreement. Papu got pissed, Gasp got pissed, Ilicic was like “I agree with Papu, but I’ll still go in and play like you’re telling me Mister”. The fall out was blown out of proportion. It happened, but this marriage isn’t in danger. People fight, but everyone still truly loves one another. Thank God too, because Gasperini is the brain and Papu is the heart. If those two disconnect for a long period of time, the team strokes out.
VN: We’ve been watching this version of Atalanta since about 2016 and have a pretty good grasp on what they do, but part of what makes them so effective is that they always seem to have a new trick to whip out. Have they deployed any new approaches thus far, or is it still the same Dea?
DP: Lately, it seems like their biggest trick is not shipping way too many goals defensively. This is especially true in the Champions League. Clearly we’re going through a goal scoring drought, but I think that’s just temporary. We’re still that attacking team. The biggest trick this year is that we can win 2-0 regularly, and not 4-2 or 7-1. Defensive solidity, who woulda thought? We’re better equipped now to face teams that can really hurt us offensively. [ed. note: Fiorentina can’t hurt Atalanta, so advantage Viola]
VN: Let’s take a look at the squad. Which new signing has made the biggest difference? Who’s been most impressive this year? Who’s underwhelmed?
DP: That new trick I just mentioned? That has a lot to do with CB Cristian Romero who we got on loan (but with option to buy mind you) from Juve. He played with Genoa the last two seasons, and we wanted him last year, but he chose to stay with the Grifoni. He has been a rock and has solidified that “leaky” back three that we’ve always had. And I say “leaky” in quotes because it was designed to be leaky (how you gonna defend when 2 out of 3 CBs are making runs into the box?). He has definitely been the most impressive and made the biggest difference of all the new signings.
Who’s underwhelmed? Well, let’s just say that when we sold Timothy Castagne to Leicester in the summer (this still hurts btw), we basically signed 3 players to replace him (DePaoli and Piccini on the right, and Mojica on the left), and they’ve all pretty much sucked. Poor Hans Hateboer doesn’t really have a backup now on the right, and to be fair Mojica is ok on the left, but thankfully we have a Primavera prospect named Ruggeri, who has a mean haircut and left foot, who can also back up Gosens.
VN: Are there any Fiorentina players who jump out at you in this one? Anyone who you think could do some damage to Atalanta? Honestly, you can just say no and move on; this one’s more rhetorical than anything.
DP: Honestly, when I looked at the Viola starting XI against Genoa, I felt like they could/should beat just about anyone. The fact that Atalanta favorite Cesare Prandelli has them playing a 4-3-3 now should really help. We have always struggled against teams that play a front three. But the real ol’ thorn in the side is who you have in goal…the Bart. Ever since that 30 save (I don’t know if it was that many, but it was close) performance for Empoli he had against us, he has continued to act like an angry girlfriend and deny, deny, deny. With our finishing being a bit off, he may not be as busy, but he always turns up against us.
VN: Atalanta feel almost like Fiorentina did about 15 years ago, in that they’re every soccer hipster’s second- or third-favorite club now. What’s been the secret behind building such a fantastically effective and fun team on a relative shoestring budget while continually winning in the transfer market and establishing a distinctive identity on the pitch?
DP: Wow, what a question. Ok. Well. Hmmm…ok. I guess first of all it starts at the top. President Percassi is Bergamasco, and we all know that Atalanta is Bergamo and Bergamo is Atalanta. So there is a real understanding of this connection from the top, and it seems like decisions are usually made that benefit the club, and not just his pockets. That being said, he is a business man, and buying the stadium was super smart…even though now we have a Burger King in it (WTF?).
The club has always been smart on the transfer market, and has had a top rated youth system, so that really hasn’t changed, but the biggest thing is Gasperini. He was given the time he needed. Remember that his first season he lost five out of his first 6 games? Can you imagine if Percassi had fired him? No way this all would’ve happened. Coaches like Gasp are egotistical enough to insist on playing their own “style”. This makes it much easier to find players that fit. And the tactics are very much based on collectivity and hard work. So, I guess the secret is, have a local owner/president and find a coach who focuses on the collective, and give them the time they need, then that Champions League cash will start a rollin’ in!
VN: Prediction time: What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’s the overall pattern of the game?
DP: You can’t pick a better time to play La Dea than after a big Champions League victory. We always suck after that. Also, I’m not sure if Gasperini will make squad changes to rest some tired legs or not. I know there will be no Ilicic (he has a sore throat, yeah, sore throat). I think Fiorentina comes out hard in the first 10 and gets a goal. We’ll say Castrovilli. Atalanta takes over in possession, and gets a goal back before halftime. Let’s say Gosens. Second half, Atalanta comes out pressing hard, but Bart shows up. Game ends 1-1.
Thanks, Dan! Looking forward to the festivities on Sunday, even though your prediction is probably about 5 goals short for the hosts.