The number 13 may be unlucky for some, but the 13th part of our story with Atalanta sees us go on a run of unbelievable form that undoubtedly required a whole load of luck.
The Atalanta boys had sealed Champions League football for a fourth season in a row after a third-place finish in 2022/23. And, with plenty of youngsters both strengthening their position in the team and threatening to make the breakthrough into the first-team squad, no major transfer business was required.
We sold on centre-back Svetozar Markovic, who’d turned 23 and not really progressed as I’d hoped, to Leicester City for £15 million and he was followed out the exit door by a host of other youngsters who it was clear wouldn’t quite make it – including striker Ivaylo Aleksandrov, who hadn’t been able to force Cosimo Marco Da Graca out of the first team.
The only incomings were a midfielder Petar Radovic, who I instantly regretted as his potential plummeted down to 3.5 stars, alongside two exciting young prospects. The first was Milovan Timotijevic, who looked like one of the most exciting wonderkids I’ve ever seen on the game, alongside promising young left-back Marvin Schmidt.
The season began with three big friendly wins, then a victory over Real Madrid in a testimonial for Dani Carvajal. That seemingly set the team up nicely as we went on a fantastic run of 10 straight victories without conceding a goal at the start of the season.
That included a 1-0 win at Juventus, thanks to a goal from Frederic Pereira and a 3-0 win at AC Milan, with goals from Pereira and two subs Timotijevic and Karioca. We also enjoyed a 5-0 home hammering of Genoa, in which our box-to-box midfielder Denis Roncaglio scored a hat-trick.
The winning streak and clean sheet streak both ended with a 2-2 draw at home to Manchester United in the Champions League, then the unbeaten streak ended with a visit to United. However, we won all four of the other group games against Basel and Benfica to qualify for the knockout stages – including a 7-1 home thumping of Benfica, which included braces for both Antonio Marin and exciting winger-cum-forward Alessandro Zanelli.
But the defensive brilliance continued in the league, going on to winthe first 11 matches then a 0-0 draw at Lazio saw us set a Serie A record of 12 straight clean sheets.
The mad defensive run was ended as Inter came to town, but we still managed to come out on top with a brilliant 3-2 win thanks to a superb hat-trick from Da Graca – who, despite my coaches’ advice, was comfortably our best striker.
A busy December saw us extend their stunning form, winning 7 straight Serie A matches to see us heading into 2024 top of the pile. However, AS Roma were staying concerningly close to us with an almost as impressive start to the campaign.
That winter run included a hat-trick for left-winger Marin in a 4-0 win at newly promoted Spezia and, crucially, a 2-1 win at home to Roma on Boxing Day, with goals from Marin and Da Graca.
Join us next time as we look to continue our strong form in search of a first-ever league title for Atalanta and press on to the knockout stages of the Champions League.