Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini on Tuesday warned his side against the dangers of getting carried away as the Serie A upstarts prepare to face Valencia in the round of 16 in their first-ever Champions League knockout stage match.
Traditionally regarded as the best of Italy’s provincial sides, Atalanta have blossomed in the last few seasons under Gasperini and finished a best-ever third in Serie A last season to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
They made it past the group stage despite losing their first three matches and are Serie A’s leading scorers with 63 goals. Their confidence was boosted on Saturday with a 2-1 win over AS Roma, rivals for a place in next season’s Champions League.
“It is right to be confident but euphoria can be dangerous,” Gasperini said ahead of Wednesday’s match, which is being played at the larger San Siro stadium shared by the Milan clubs.
“Valencia have won at Ajax and Chelsea (in this season’s group stage). There are difficulties at this level. We didn’t draw one of the very top teams but the results of our opponents speak for themselves.”
Gasperini added that an injury to striker Duvan Zapata, their leading scorer last season, had forced Atalanta to look for other options this term, making them more versatile.
“With Zapata, we had some great results last year,” he said. “This year we missed him for a long time and we found alternatives. Sometimes we used Luis Muriel, sometimes we didn’t field a specialised striker.
“This has enriched us, giving us alternatives. We have always been prolific in the penalty area and this is an asset that we can use in upcoming game.”