‘Il Professore’ and Chelsea’s unwanted man – 5 Atalanta stars to worry Man Utd

Atalanta head to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United on Wednesday night with their individual quality relatively unknown despite their impressive efforts in Serie A and the Champions League

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Solskjaer and Rashford preview Atalanta clash

Manchester United will take on arguably Europe’s most-improved team when they host Atalanta at Old Trafford.

The Italians have become a major force domestically and are enjoying their third straight season in the Champions League, reaching the knockout stages in their first two years.

Atalanta sit top of their group after two games, one point ahead of United, who beat Villarreal in their last European outing.

The Serie A outfit, coached by the highly-rated Gian Piero Gasperini, are renowned for their style of play, which could be a handful for United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw his side well beaten by Leicester on Saturday and those flaws could again be exposed by Atalanta.

Some of their well-known names, like Germany’s Robin Gosens, are set to miss out through injury.

Nevertheless, Atalanta are not short of quality, even if those individuals are not necessarily household names for English fans.

Gian Piero Gasperini has worked wonders in Bergamo

Josip Ilicic

The Slovenian has found form once again following a quiet 2020/21 season.

Ilicic was a leading light for the Italian side when they reached the last eight of the Champions League the previous term.

He netted over 20 times that year and has again found his appetite for goals, scoring twice at the weekend.

Ilicic sparked into life during the international break, scoring three times in two games for Slovenia.

His physicality makes him a difficult proposition for a United defence that are having to cope without Raphael Varane.

His teammates rarely call him by his name, instead referring to him as ‘Il Professore’ because he gives lessons in the art of football.

Ruslan Malinovskyi

The Ukrainian could be the man United need to stop if they are to halt the Atalanta charge on Wednesday night.

Leicester were able to play through them at the weekend and if Malinovskyi is afforded time and space then he could cut through the Red Devils.

Signed from Genk in 2019, he was arguably Atalanta’s best player last term and impressed for his country at Euro 2020.

The playmaker has appeared more times than anyone else for the Serie A side this term and reportedly attracted attention from Chelsea in the summer.

Ruslan Malinovskyi is a crucial playmaking option

Mario Pasalic

The Croatian could turn out to be the latest unknown Chelsea player who’s sold by the Blues before going on to make an impression in Europe.

Pasalic was on the books at Stamford Bridge for six years from 2014 before Atalanta took him on loan and then signed him permanently in 2020.

It was the midfielder who scored for Atalanta against PSG in the last eight two years ago.

Chelsea were branded “crazy” by Rio Ferdinand for selling him for £13m and Pasalic has continued to come up with goals and assists for Gasperini’s side.

Mario Pasalic spent six years at Chelsea without making an appearance

Duvan Zapata

The 30-year-old has only begun to showcase his talents on a regular basis at Atalanta in recent years.

Zapata has scored 66 goals in his three seasons in Bergamo and possess all the attributes you’d want from a leading marksman.

The Colombian will be a handful for the United defence with Atalanta’s free-flowing system allowing him the license to play through the middle but also drift out wide to utilise his pace.

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Remo Freuler

The Swiss star was signed for a minimal fee back in 2016 but, like so many of Atalanta’s players, has grown impressively and is now highly regarded in Bergamo.

Freuler has been an ever-present under Gasperini with his role in midfielder crucial in keeping the Italians ticking.

“Remo isn’t especially athletic, but he is the brains of Atalanta. He covers everyone, recovers balls, tackles, and – most importantly – builds play from behind. His pass completion ratio is very high. He is the conductor of the orchestra,” Il Giorno correspondent Fabrizio Carcano told BBC Sport last year.

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