MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) looks to keep his winning European NAP form going with a punt from Sunday afternoon's Serie A.
Atlanta v Genoa | Sunday 29th April 2018, 14:00
Having tabled a remarkable fourth-placed finish last season, few fancied unheralded Atalanta to repeat the feat in 2017/18.
The Bergamo boys missed out on Champions League football (only the top-three in Serie A qualified) but Atalanta were returning to European competition for the first time in 26 years and celebrations ensued.
However, the loss of key players such as Roberto Gagliardini, Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti over the previous six months leading up until August, plus the extra strain of continental football, meant many of us predicted a season of regression for La Dea.
How wrong we were. Under the astute leadership of Gian Piero Gasperini, Atalanta continue to fly high in sixth. European qualification is again on the cards despite their squad being stretched to limit and much of the traditional Serie A big guns improving year-on-year.
The fact that Expected Points rankings place Atalanta fourth in the Italian top-tier is even more astounding. La Dea have scored slightly fewer, and conceded a couple more goals, than their opportunities at front and back rate with last year’s star forward Papu Gomez struggling for the same consistency.
Are Atalanta overrated?
In fact, playmaker Josip Ilicic is the Bergamo club’s top goalscorer and so o putting teams to the sword hasn’t been quite so straightforward. With Ilicic still struggling with a knee injury and Sunday afternoon’s hosts claiming only seven wins by a margin of two or more goals, are Atalanta slightly overrated here?
Quite possibly. The hosts have been chalked up at very short odds based on their ability but also their necessity to pocket maximum points with Gasperini reiterating his desire to secure European qualification.
However, four of those seven triumphs by two or more goals came against the bottom-four and La Dea have only claimed three victories in their past nine on home soil. Sure, they’ve W7-D1-L1 when welcoming bottom-half teams but three of their four wins by more than a one-goal margin came against that bottom-four bracket.
What’s more, the hosts have kept only six clean sheets on home soil so they may not find it easy to dismantle what’s proven to be a wonderful revival from Genoa under Davide Ballardini. So much so that I’m backing Genoa with a +1.5 Asian Handicap start here at 5/6 with Bet365.
Genoa’s remarkable revival
Ballardini arrived after the November international break with Genoa entrenched in the relegation zone having won just once in their opening 12 games, picking up only six points (W1-D3-L8).
The Grifone have since returned W10-D5-L7 – managing 1.59 points per-game as they’ve accumulated 35 points. Only the top-six in Serie A have earned more points during that run with Inter Milan picking up only one more point than Genoa during the same sample.
The visitors had leaked 19 goals in their first 12 outings – they’ve since shipped just 15 in their 22 tussles under Ballardini’s watch, including 10 clean sheets. Their 22 fixtures under the new boss have seen the Grifone concede an average of only 0.98 Expected Goals per-game with their new system working a treat.
Ballardini’s brought in an organised and suffocating 3-5-2 approach that’s already proved problematic for a host of Serie A’s leading lights. Genoa have held Roma and lost by a one-goal margin against the Giallorossi, beaten Lazio and Inter and lost by one-goal margins to both Napoli and Juventus.
The defeat at Roma was their only reverse in six away trips of late and whilst they’ve returned only W1-D4-L1 at top-half teams, all four losses were again by the tightest of margins as Genoa have suffered a sole defeat by more than a solitary strike since Ballardini arrived.
Atalanta v Genoa – Genoa +1.5 Asian Handicap (5/6 Bet365)