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21.05.2024Europa League

Our next opponents: Atalanta also looking to crown historic season

With fifth place in Serie A and qualification for the UEFA Champions League, Atalanta have already achieved their primary objective with two matches left of the league season. Now the Lombardy club want to land another coup in the UEFA Europa League final against the Werkself on Wednesday 22 May (kick-off 21:00 CEST). Bayer 04 know from own experience how awkward the tough-tackling and dangerous Bergamasks are. The lowdown on our final opponents.
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Position

Like the Werkself, Atalanta passed their final test ahead of the Europa League final at the weekend, winning 2-0 at Lecce to secure fifth place in Serie A with two matches to spare. With that, coach Gian Piero Gasperini's side have also qualified for the Champions League. "Our big goal for the season has been achieved, I'm really proud of my team," said 66-year-old Gasperini, who's been coach at Atalanta since 2016 and has guided the Bergamo club to the group stage of Europe's premier club competition for the fourth time. Charles de Ketelaere and top scorer Gianluca Scamacca scored the goals in the comfortable win over 13th-placed Lecce. La Dea ('the Goddess') had already taken a big step towards Champions League qualification a week earlier against sixth-placed Roma. The hosts dominated from the start in Bergamo and took an early 2-0 lead thanks to a brace from de Ketelaere. Atalanta missed several chances to wrap up the win after that, but Roma could only manage one goal back through Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Between those two crucial league victories, Gasperini's men suffered heartbreak in the final of the Coppa Italia last week. They lost 1-0 to Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, their third final defeat in the cup competition since 2019. Despite that, it's been a successful campaign overall for Atalanta, who came through the group stage of the Europa League unbeaten and as group winners. In the last 16, they knocked out Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon 3-2 on aggregate and then caused a real sensation in the quarter-finals, beating Liverpool 3-0 away in the first leg, after which they could afford the 1-0 loss in the second leg in Bergamo. Olympique Marseille were their next victims in the semi-finals. After a 1-1 draw in southern France, Atalanta deservedly triumphed 3-0 at the Gewiss Stadium to reach the first final of a European competition in the club's history.

Personnel

The 1-0 defeat to Juventus in the cup final was particularly painful for Marten de Roon. The 33-year-old midfielder, who's played 90 minutes in 11 of the team's 12 Europa League fixtures this season, was forced off with a thigh injury after 64 minutes against Juve and will miss the final in Dublin. Mainz-born Mario Pasalic could take the place of the Dutch international against the Wekself, with Giorgio Scalvini - a centre-back by trade who's also played in defensive midfield recently - another option.

A question marks hangs over defender Sead Kolasinac. The former Schalke man also sustained a thigh injury in the semi-final first leg against Marseille and hasn't featured since. If he fails to recover in time, 21-year-old Giovanni Bonfanti and Mitchel Bakker, who joined last summer from Bayer 04, are available on the left side of defence. Scalvini is again another option to join Albanian Berat Djimsiti and Swede Ikak Hien in the three-man back line. The latter only moved to Bergamo from Hellas Verona in January. Experienced captain Rafael Toloi is an alternative, too.

In the wide positions, Gasperini normally goes with Matteo Ruggeri on the left and Davide Zappacosta on the right. In central midfield, Brazilian Ederson has become a key player for the Nerazzurri since his move from US Salernitana two years ago. The responsibility in attack falls on the likes of Netherlands international Teun Koopmeiners, Belgian de Ketelaere and Russian Aleksey Miranchuk. There's plenty of quality up front, too, with players like El Bilal Touré, Ademola Lookman and particularly Scamacca. Luis Muriel however, who scored two goals in Atalanta's 3-2 win over the Werkself in the UEL two years ago, left in February 2024 for Orlando City in Major League Soccer.

Performers

Since taking charge in Bergamo eight years ago, Gasperini has relied on an attacking brand of football. Under his management, La Dea are always among the highest-scoring sides in Serie A, including this season. They've scored the third-most goals (67) in the Italian top flight this term after champions Inter Milan (86) and second-placed AC Milan (73). Frontman Scamacca, who stands at 1.96 metres tall, returned to his home country from West Ham United last summer. The Rome native has netted six times in the current Europa League campaign, putting him third in the goalscoring chart behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (10 for Marseille) and Romelu Lukaku (7 for Roma). The Italy international was the man-of-the-match in the 3-0 win at Liverpool with a brace, and with 11 goals in the league he's second only to Koopmeiners (12) for Atalanta. Also a threat are de Ketelaere (10 goals) and ex-Leipzig attacker Lookman (nine).

The Nerazzurri are also strong at the back, though. The club from the Lombardy region have conceded just eight goals in 12 Europa League games this season, or 0.67 per game - the best figure among all participating teams. On top of that, Atalanta have allowed just 2.8 opposition shots on goal per game in the competition. Again, no other side can top that. They play a high-intensity style of football with a lot of emphasis on tackling. "They're an Italian team who have experience and play extremely aggressively," warned Werkself midfielder Granit Xhaka.

Problems

The highly attacking style of play also brings risks with it. Because the defence often pushes up high, there is space behind for opponents if they can counter quickly. Juventus took advantage of one such situation in the Coppa Italia final to score the match-winning goal. It remains to be seen how much Atalanta will miss key player de Roon.

Prediction

Similar to Leverkusen, there is a great buzz in Bergamo at the moment. Aside from the minor dampener in the cup final, the team have been able to take a lot of confidence from Serie A and the Europa League recently. La Dea are in impressive form. "It's going to be a historic final," said Gasperini. "For our team like us, it's just incredible to have got so far." Now the club want to crown an already great season with the first European title in their history. As well as the coach, players like Koopmeiners, Zappacosta and goalkeeper Juan Musso will still fondly remember the first meeting with the Werkself in the 2021/22 campaign, when Atalanta progressed to the Europa League round of 16 thanks to two narrow wins (3-2 and 1-0). Now the cards are being reshuffled, and one thing is clear: Gasperini once again has an excellent hand.

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