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Champions League recap: Atalanta defy the odds

From losing 4-0 on matchday one – the first of three straight defeats – to becoming the competition's great entertainers, meet Atalanta.

Watch every Atalanta Champions League goal so far this season

Few would have predicted Atalanta being among the last eight after their 4-0 defeat on matchday one, but here they are.

Rule changes for this season

Season so far

Highlights: Valencia 3-4 Atalanta

Form guide: W4 D1 L3 F16 A16
Top scorer: Josip Iličić (5)

Their campaign in ten words: From zero to hero – can they go all the way?

Group C runners-up
Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 Atalanta (Leovac 10, Oršić 31 42 68)
Atalanta 1-2 Shakhtar (Zapata 28; Júnior Moraes 41, Solomon 90+5)
Man. City 5-1 Atalanta (Agüero 34 38pen, Sterling 58 64 69; Malinovskyi 28pen)
Atalanta 1-1 Man. City (Pašalić 49; Sterling 7)
Atalanta 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb (Muriel 27pen, Gómez 47)
Shakhtar 0-3 Atalanta (Castagne 66, Pašalić 80, Gosens 90+4)

Round of 16

First leg (19 February): Atalanta 4-1 Valencia (Hateboer 16 62, Iličić 42, Freuler 57; Cheryshev 66)
Second leg (10 March): Valencia 3-4 Atalanta (Gameiro 21 51, Ferrán Torres 67; Iličić 3pen 43pen 71 82)
(8-4 agg.)

Highlights: Atalanta 4-1 Valencia

Four goals in Milan, another four in Valencia that were all scored by Josip Iličić. It may not always have looked like it, but the outcome of this tie was never really in doubt.

Expert view: Vieri Capretta, UEFA.com Atalanta reporter

Who could have imagined they would go this far? In their first UEFA Champions League campaign, and after a terrible start, it was impossible to imagine Atalanta beyond the group stage. Now, with just three more wins, they could be champions. And it wouldn’t come as such a huge surprise. On their day, Atalanta can beat anybody.

Who’s in charge?

Since he joined Atalanta in 2016, Gian Piero Gasperini has taken the club from the Serie A relegation scrum to the top table in Europe. After impressing at Genoa, he failed to do the same at Inter back in 2011. Now he is etching his name into Atalanta's history books.

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini
Atalanta coach Gian Piero GasperiniGetty Images

Key quote: "We have shown we deserve to be in this competition. We are happy for ourselves, for the city of Bergamo and for Italian football."

Tactical approach

Outrun and outplay every opponent. Atalanta’s style is clear – keep the tempo high and be sure of numerous options when attacking. Down the middle or out on the flanks, La Dea can be dangerous in many ways. A three-man defence, a four-man midfield that incorporates two wing-backs who are often on the scoresheet (Robin Gosens and Hans Hateboer) and then the magic up front, with Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gómez, Iličić and Duván Zapata combining.

Star player: Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gómez

Yes, Iličić rightly took the round of 16 headlines, but the heart of this team is captain Gómez, a player who has prospered under coach Gasperini. He can now lay claim to being a well-rounded midfielder and forward who maintains a superb level of consistency. He acts as a playmaker, as a winger, as a striker, as a goalscorer and as a provider of assists – not to mention a charismatic figurehead. Unique.