Sports, Football

Giant-killer Atalanta on the verge of reaching semis

Published : 17 Apr 2024 09:47 PM

Atalanta have a chance to make history on Thursday as they welcome Liverpool to Bergamo with one foot in the Europa League semi-finals thanks to a stunning first-leg win at Anfield.

Atalanta once again punched way above their weight last week by dishing out a 3-0 hammering to Liverpool and are on the verge of reaching the last four of a European competition for the first time since 1988.

Back then Atalanta were a Serie B team and knocked out of the Cup Winners' Cup by Belgian outfit Mechelen, but nowadays the Italians are competing with and beating an altogether higher class of opposition.

Last week's win in England was probably the greatest European night in Atalanta's history as their run to 2020 Champions League quarter-finals -- where they were desperately unlucky to lose to Paris Saint-Germain -- came at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which devastated Bergamo.

It was also unexpected as Atalanta's recent form has been patchy with three wins in 11 matches, and throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with struggling Verona on Monday reminded coach Gian Piero Gasperini of the dangers of complacency.

"Verona managed to score two goals against us in four minutes so we need to be careful. Liverpool are a team that came back from three goals down in a Champions League final against a team of greats," said Gasperini to Sky Sport on Monday.

"We know that nothing has been decided and that we will have to play really well."

A historically small club playing in the shadow of -- and competing for fans with -- the Milanese giants down the road, Atalanta have reached new heights since Gasperini took over as coach in 2016.

Atalanta have a habit of breaking new ground, playing modern attacking football while maintaining close ties with a local community which has seen their team overtake traditionally bigger clubs like Fiorentina and Lazio.

Liverpool will step out onto a pitch surrounded by a partly-built Gewiss stadium, a project Atalanta have been moving forward ever since striking a deal with the city of Bergamo to buy the old Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia in 2017.

The shiny new stands, which will pulsate with some of the most passionate support Italy has to offer, are a reminder of the dilapidated arenas most of Italy's clubs have to play in and the progress Atalanta have made in the last eight years.

The only thing missing from Gasperini's reign in northern Italy is a trophy, but with last week's incredible win the path to May's final in Dublin has opened up.

Should Atalanta get through they will face one of Benfica or Marseille, missing out on a clash with one of two other Italian teams left in the competition or newly-crowned German champions Bayer Leverkusen, who are heavy favourites to get past West Ham.

Atalanta were unbeaten in four matches against Portuguese league leaders Sporting Lisbon while Marseille in their current state would surely be preferable semi-final opponents to any team on the other side of the draw.

Liverpool meanwhile have won just three of their last eight games in all competitions and are showing clear signs of fatigue after already having played 51 games this season.

And with Italy striker Gianluca Scamacca in hot form ahead of Euro 2024 -- seven goals in his last eight matches -- now is the perfect time for Italy's giant-killers to break more new ground.