Mid-way through the 2020/21 campaign we found ourselves once again exceeding expectations, sitting nicely in the top four and with a decent chance of challenging the mighty Inter Milan, AS Roma and Juventus for the Serie A title.
The January Transfer Window was a pretty quiet affair, releasing a load of youngsters who were never going to make it and a couple more players going out on loan. However, we did make another big-money sale as centre-back Marco Varnier moved to Juventus for £40 million – the second-highest transfer fee received by the club, behind the summer sale of Musa Barrow.
In terms of incomings, we again continued the focus on youth – and I’ve actually decided to try and not sign any players OVER the age of 23 on this save. One I’m very excited about is Ivo Borges, an 18-year-old Brazilian defender who we actually can’t register yet because of Italy’s silly Non-EU registration rule. But, he looks amazing.
Another Brazilian, defender / midfielder Antunes came in, alongside Argentinian midfielder Jorge Martinez – both of whom obviously have 5-star potential.
We snapped up an Italian, for a change, in another young midfielder Mino Viggiani. Then the spending was completed with two more very exciting prospects in Bulgarian striker Ivaylo Aleksandrov and goalkeeper Sem Mijnheer.
We opened up January with a 3-2 win over Pescara, then went 2-0 down at home to Roma but two goals from centre-back Svetozar Markovic got us level and goals from exciting young winger Simone Rabbi and backup striker Marco Tumminello secured an important win. But that win was followed by a draw at Torino then a 2-0 defeat at AC Milan.
Heading into the knockout rounds of the Champions League we were handed a tough draw in the first round, against Tottenham Hotspur. We managed to achieve a feat I don’t think I’ve previously managed on this game by keeping a clean sheet against Harry Kane with a 0-0 draw at home, then went to their place, kept another clean sheet and Antonio Marin popped up with a 74th-minute goal to send us through.
That set us up nicely for the remainder of the campaign, and we only lost one of our remaining 10 league games. But sticking with the Champions League, we drew FC Porto in the next round but went out on away goals as a 4-3 home victory followed a 2-1 away defeat. However, worthy mention goes to Marin for scoring twice in the home leg.
Marin was also at it in a vital 1-0 home win over Inter, which actually sent us above them into second place in the league – behind Juventus, who were six points clear. Two further 1-0 wins over SPAL and Bologna saw us strengthen that position, before a wacky 4-4 draw at Fiorentina that saw four goals in the last nine minutes and a goal for both teams deep into injury time.
We scored four goals for a third consecutive match – with the Porto game sandwiching them – with a 4-0 trouncing of Salernitana, with Dan-Axel Zagadou, young midfielder Andrea Viviani, Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Barbosa all scoring before half-time.
But two more dropped points at Sampdoria cost us, after Rabbi had opened the scoring Matteo Pessina got sent off after 57 minutes then they scored an equaliser three minutes later to draw 1-1. Viviani and Rabbi were back on the scoresheet again in a 2-0 win over Udinese, which set up a title decider against Juventus.
Juventus went into the big clash five points clear, so a win was vital. And we got a great start through Nelson after 10 minutes, only for Cristiano Ronaldo to equalise just after the half-hour. Nelson fired us back ahead five minutes later and things were looking good until Miralem Pjanic hit a long-ranger to equalise and effectively wrap up the title.
A 1-0 defeat at Napoli did hand the title to Juve, but we finished the season in style with a 5-2 hammering of Lazio. I threw the youngsters in for the final game of the season and they produced big-time, with the very exciting Cosimo Marco Da Graca and Rabbi both scoring twice and Pessina scoring the other.
That secured a second consecutive highest-ever finish in Atalanta’s history, along with two further club records of 84 points and 25 wins. And it’s worth noting that our 4 defeats was the lowest in Serie A,
Nelson led the club’s goals and assists tallies, racking up 17 goals and 17 assists in all competitions, with 13 and 15 respectively in the league – but Arsenal’s huge valuation have priced us out of signing him permanently.
Marin led the way with an average rating of 7.39 across the season. While a more impressive stat for me was that the oldest player we used in any competition was Robin Gosens, at 26 years and 314 days on the penultimate day of the season.
Annoyingly Fatih Terim of Juventus beat me to Manager of the Season, but I did win the Managers’ Manager of the Season for the second time in a row.
It’s safe to say I’m very much getting into this save, especially as we have over 30 players with 5-star potential. Join us next time as we look to promote more of our promising young players into the first-team squad while continuing to challenge the bigger, more lavish spending clubs in Serie A. We’ll also take a closer look at some of these youngsters and I’ll take you inside the tactics I’ve settled on for the last couple of seasons.