Gasperini: ‘Atalanta barely need me’

Gian Piero Gasperini believes the race for the top four will ‘go down to the wire’ after a 3-2 thriller at Fiorentina, explaining Atalanta’s tactical adjustments. ‘They barely need me now.’

La Dea needed the victory to keep fourth place, as Milan, Juventus, Napoli, Lazio and Roma all won this weekend, but it was harder than expected at the Stadio Franchi.

That’s because Dusan Vlahovic’s brace allowed the Viola to come back from 2-0 down, but also Atalanta wasted numerous opportunities to further extend their lead.

Josip Ilicic’s penalty proved to be enough after the Duvan Zapata first half double.

“It was a difficult evening, as everyone won and we were the only ones left. We ran a lot of risks, we almost didn’t win, but these are three fundamental points, as essentially the table remains what it was this morning and there’s one round less to play. Now we go into a pretty remarkable week,” the coach told Sky Sport Italia.

Next week, there’s a fascinating showdown between Atalanta and Juventus, who are separated by just one point, but Cristian Romero will be suspended.

“It’s not the first time we’ve left the game open, but we did score three goals. Duvan Zapata told me when coming off he should’ve had five today!

“Fiorentina pushed really hard, they were very aggressive and determined. We did well to resume creating chances and scoring goals after we were pulled back for 2-2.”

Gasperini was always known for using a three-man defence, yet over the last couple of games, Atalanta switched to four.

“It’s because of the personnel we have at our disposal and the opponents we are facing. You’ll see we will return to three at the back soon.

“It’s not even that much of a difference, as we usually move a defender up into midfield. We created several versions of the system over time and we can count on them at different times of the game.

“We have a lot of options in attack and that allows us to play this way at certain points of the season. Our midfielders Remo Freuler and Marten de Roon are also exceptional in their tactical intelligence. I’ve said that I don’t even need to be there now, I can sit in the stands and they all know the tactics so well that they can go on autopilot.

“They know when to press, when to switch from one approach to the next, they hardly need me at all.”

Ilicic came off the bench to convert the winning penalty, but his future remains in doubt amid Milan interest.

“Ilicic is a great player. I don’t know what will happen next season. He plays for us now, with great enthusiasm and hunger. He plays well at times, at others he doesn’t, but we are very fond of him and I don’t know if he’d be happier anywhere else.

“He’s one of us, this is a very strong group and there is great love between them. If he doesn’t play for a bit, it just makes him more motivated for the next matches.”

Atalanta are in fourth place, but only two points adrift of Milan in second, so Gasperini was asked if he’ll raise the bar next term.

“Our ambitions have increased thanks to everyone, growing over five years from level to level. We won’t disguise that, considering the consistency of our results, we are in one of the top levels. Not quite the top, because Juventus and Inter have something more, and the clubs we are battling against have very high budgets, who we cannot compete with on the transfer market.

“For example, we cannot sign Romelu Lukaku or Victor Osimhen. Atalanta have raised the bar because of intelligent sales, but we cannot compete on those levels.

“I think it’s excessive to suggest Atalanta should start the season being expected to win the Scudetto. Having said that, if we end up in the general area towards the end, that’s different.

“I believe the race for the top four will go down to the wire this season. It’ll be down to the last day.”

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