As Atalanta signed off for the winter break with a 4-1 thrashing of Cesena, coach Stefano Colantuono could look back on the season so far work with a degree of satisfaction after all he has contended with. The club had it’s proud name dragged through the mud in the Calcioscommese match fixing scandal that initially cost them six points at the start of the season and continues to drag on, with former Nerazzurri hero Cristiano Doni again implicated for fixing Atalanta games in their successful Serie B promotion campaign last season.
Colantuono has demanded focus on the field from his players as the off-field problems are something they cannot influence. Prior to the Cesena engagement, Doni was again placed under arrest for a second time, which understandably caused tension within the Atalanta camp. The coach told Radio Sport ‘ We dealt with the same situation six months ago and will deal with it again. Of course it is all a shock but we must focus on the games’. Without their six point deduction they would be an impressive 8th in the standings, but because of it they are 13th. Staying in the division is the aim for any newly promoted side, so considering the circumstances Atalanta have been heroic.
The key to the Oribici’s hopes has been striker, German Denis. The much maligned forward arrived during the summer after a paltry 17 goals in 88 games for both Napoli and Udinese. Questions were raised of the newly appointed Sporting Director, Pierpaolo Marino (the man behind Napoli’s rise from Serie C to A and the signings of Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi), and his ambition.
If Denis hushed the doubters when he opened his account in the 2nd game of the season against Palermo, then what followed silenced them emphatically. In 17 games, the Argentine has netted 12 times, including strikes against Inter and Napoli. Denis however, puts his team before himself, telling TMW ‘Finishing as Serie A top scorer? Of course it would be nice but now I can only concentrate on saving Atalanta’.
It was unfortunate for Atalanta that they met a Milan side in such rampant form for the first game after the winter break in a big Lombardy Derby. The Atleti Azzurri d’Italia was at fever pitch throughout the game and despite a determined performance, class eventually told with Milan running out 2-0 winners (with help from a controversial penalty decision, described by Colantuono as ‘non-existent’). Despite this, only slight, setback Atalanta can look ahead to the rest of the season with enthusiasm.
In the transfer market, Marino is taking his time looking for ‘quality not quantity’, with the Bergamaschi looking towards Massimo Donati of Bari and Matteo Contini, on loan at Siena from Zaragoza. Keeping hold of the clubs younger stars is equally important, with midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura linked with Roma and Fiorentina, while young forward Manolo Gabbiadini linked with Manchester United and Juventus among others.
Whatever happens during the rest of the season, thanks to the actions of Cristiano Doni it will be memorable for all the wrong reasons. But should Atalanta be celebrating survival at the top table, it would be a season with a happy ending.
Charles Ducksbury is a knowledgeable voice when Italian football, at all levels, and is a man worth keeping an eye on. You can follow him on twitter (@cducksbury).
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