Who are Atalanta's key men?
Manchester United will meet with Atalanta for the first time ever when the Italian side are the visitors to Old Trafford in the Champions League this evening (Wednesday).
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have often been admired for their attractive playing style that has seen them record three successive third-place finishes in Italy’s top division and reach the knockout stage of European football's elite club competition in each of the last two seasons.
Now, La Dea’s current crop of stars are hoping to continue that success in 2021/22 and there is talent to write about all over the pitch. But perhaps most importantly, as is vital to any prospering team, the Group F leaders boast a strong spine through the middle of the park.
With that in mind, here is a closer look at four key players we are likely to see at the heart of the action, from back to front, for the Italians later. Be sure to pick up your copy of our official matchday programme, which can be ordered online now, for the feature in its entirety along with a full rundown of the Atalanta squad.
Musso was one of Serie A’s most in-demand goalkeepers this summer, but it was the lure of Champions League football with Atalanta that prized the 27-year-old from Udinese, for whom he has starred in the last three seasons. With La Dea’s previous no.1 Pierluigi Gollini spending 2021/22 on loan at Tottenham, Gian Piero Gasperini prioritised Musso’s arrival and has been rewarded with a string of fine performances, including a spectacular save from Gerard Moreno in the 2-2 draw at Villarreal on matchday one. Brought up in the Argentinian city of San Nicolas, Musso was a regular at 16 for local third-tier side Defensores de Belgrano before joining Racing Club in 2012. Third-choice as Racing won a first Primera Division title for 13 years in 2014, the athletic stopper joined Udinese four years later, quickly becoming one of the Little Zebras’ most consistent players. Musso was part of Argentina’s Copa America-winning squad this summer, before making the switch to Atalanta despite reported interest from current Serie A champions Internazionale.
JOSE LUIS PALOMINO
A central cog in Gasperini’s Atalanta revolution since arriving at the club in 2017, Palomino is the quintessential Argentinian defender. Standing 6ft 2in tall with thick-set shoulders, the 31-year-old centre-back has made more than 150 appearances for La Dea, his strength in the tackle, aerial excellence and ability to play centrally or on the left of Gasperini’s preferred back three vital to the club’s hat-trick of third-place finishes in Serie A. A product of the San Lorenzo Academy, Palomino came to wider attention in marking River Plate playmaker Ariel Ortega during a goalless draw in November 2010, before moving to Argentinos Juniors three years later. Despite struggling for fitness, the defender joined Ligue 1 side Metz in the summer of 2014, later spending the 2016/17 season at Ludogorets Razgrad, where he won the Bulgarian title. Atalanta swooped that summer and have been rewarded by a series of impressive displays, with Palomino providing the backbone to La Dea’s two runs to the Coppa Italia final in 2019 and 2021.
MARTEN DE ROON
With tongue firmly pressed into cheek, De Roon recently went viral when apparently hosting a shirt signing at Atalanta’s club shop, to which nobody turned up. “I bet Messi never has to deal with this,” declared the Dutch midfielder for the skit – yet Atalanta fans are under no illusions how important the 30-year-old is to their cause. Now 250 appearances into his La Dea career, De Roon is the conduit through which manager Gasperini’s tactical plans flow, his superb technique and vision standing out across two spells in Bergamo. De Roon joined Sparta Rotterdam aged 15, making his senior debut four years later against Twente. The creative midfielder left for Heerenveen in the summer of 2012, joining Atalanta after a fine three-year spell. After a year with the Italian club, De Roon joined Premier League Middlesbrough for 2016/17 but struggled to adapt to English football across 35 appearances as Boro were relegated. He immediately returned to Atalanta, where he has reasserted himself as one of Gasperini’s most important midfielders.
Zapata has elevated his game to become one of Serie A’s most clinical forwards at Atalanta, one who averages better than a goal every other game. The cousin of former AC Milan defender Cristian, Zapata came through the America de Cali Academy, his potent mixture of speed and awareness of space persuading Estudiantes to sign him in 2011, aged 20. After three years in Argentina, Zapata joined Napoli but, despite a solid goalscoring record, was in and out of the first team and was soon farmed out on loan. After two seasons at Udinese from 2015/16, Zapata spent a year at Sampdoria, before sealing a temporary switch to Atalanta for 2018/19. The Colombian scored 23 times in 37 Serie A games to earn a permanent move to Stadio di Bergamo, the 30-year-old’s work rate and improving all-round game – he has provided assists against Villarreal and Young Boys in his two Champions League outings already this term – making him the perfect centre-forward for this vibrant Atalanta side, and far more than just a poacher.