Atalanta are performing admirably in the league and some of the credit goes to Luis Muriel, who has scored 18 goals so far.
Currently in third place in Serie A, there is plenty to admire about Atalanta in the ongoing Italian domestic football season. Even with the departure of talisman Alejandro Gomez, Gian Piero Gasperini has stitched together a team full of underrated stars with Luis Muriel among them. The Colombian striker is currently third in the Capocannoniere race with 18 goals. Only Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku (20) and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo (24) are ahead of him in the race for Serie A’s Golden Boot.
The Santo Tomas native joined Atalanta in 2019 after a successful loan spell with Fiorentina. With chances hard to come by at parent club Sevilla, the former Sampdoria player joined Atalanta. The Italian outfit had a fantastic 2019-20 season, reaching the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. In the semis, Atalanta lost to eventual runners-up Paris Saint-Germain.
Despite crashing out of the ongoing season’s Champions League, Atalanta have been flying high in the Italian league. Captained by Rafael Toloi, they are third in Serie A with 58 points; eight points behind table-toppers Inter Milan. The La Dea have won 17 matches, drawn seven and lost five.
Style of play
Due to Gasperini’s preference for a solitary striker, Muriel has found regular first-team chances hard to come by at Atalanta, but that hasn’t stopped his goals tally. He has made 27 Serie A appearances, but until now was included in the starting XI only 12 times. He has come in as a substitute in 15 fixtures. Despite the paltry number of chances, Muriel has scored a goal every 57 minutes. Other than his 18 Serie A strikes, he has also registered seven assists.
An all-round attacker, Muriel can play in any position upfront; as a supporting forward or also as a solitary striker. A fantastic dribbler, the 29-year-old also has a strong right foot and is known to have an eye for long-range goals. Possessing a strong positional sense, Muriel is currently among Serie A’s most lethal strikers and is known for his movements in opposition penalty boxes. Also an ice-cold finisher, the Atalanta man is known to dominate in counter-attacks and link-up play due to his speed.
|Accurate finishing, Long-range shots, Key passes, Set-pieces, Dribbling, Speed, Industrious, Vision||Aerial battles, headers, physicality|
The main reason contributing to Muriel’s substitute appearances is the presence of Duvan Zapata. Also a Colombian, the striker has been included in the starting XI in 20 fixtures and has made substitute appearances in eight matches. Despite having played more games than Muriel, Zapata has scored 11 goals, alongwith eight assists in Serie A.
|Player name||Total matches||Starting XI||Substitute appearances||Goals||Assists||Minutes per goal|
Gasperini’s preference for Zapata over Muriel has one main reason; physicality and aerial duels. The former Udinese man is known to have one main weakness in his locker and that is aerial duels. Due to his weakness in aerial battles, he is known to have missed sitters. Despite his excellent positioning in opposition boxes, he is still prone to making mistakes while on the receiving end of crosses from teammates. But, his weaknesses are covered up by his strengths, which mainly focus on accurate finishing and long shots.
Muriel also drifts into wide areas a lot and is also a good crosser of the ball. While staying wide, he can also find spaces between centre-backs for goalscoring runs. A good passer of the ball with splendid vision, Muriel is also an industrious player, who tracks back to defend for his team.
Recent brace Vs Udinese
Gasperini has also experimented with his tactics quite a lot during the ongoing season. One such occasion was Atalanta’s latest outing in Serie A against Udinese. Playing at home, the Italian head coach fielded Muriel in a 3-4-1-2 formation, partnering Zapata in attack.
The hosts sealed a 3-2 win with Muriel scoring a brace (19′, 43′) and Zapata (61′) adding a goal to his tally. Starting on the left-side of a two-pronged attack, Muriel made an instant impact scoring a goal in the 19th minute. He received a pass on the left wing near the opposition’s 18-yard box. The Columbian forward out-muscled an opposition player, to send a backheel pass to an overlapping teammate on the left flank.
In a fine move, Muriel’s teammate cut the ball to Matteo Pessina, who was on the edge of the opposition box. During the interchange between the two players, Muriel made a run towards the Udinese box and Pessina pulled the ball back to the 29-year-old (as shown in the image above). The end product was a fiery left-footed low finish, which went past the Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso.
The first goal is also a perfect example of one of Muriel’s strengths; drifting in from wide areas.
For his second goal in the 43rd minute, Muriel received a pass from Ruslan Malinovskiy, while making a run into the left side of the opposition box (as shown in the image). The fleet-footed attacker went past a defender and then rounded the goalkeeper to send the ball into the back of the net.
In the Champions League, Muriel appeared in seven fixtures, scoring three goals. Muriel has also appeared in four Coppa Italia matches, registering a goal and two assists. Atalanta are in the final of the Italian domestic cup competition. In the Coppa Italia final they will be facing Juventus on May 19.
Muriel has been a fantastic asset for Atalanta and has paid back the trust laid on him by Gasperini. He has thrived alongside the likes of Jos Ilicic. The only problem in the ongoing season is that he is still not Gasperini’s preferred first-choice striker. The Colombian will need to be patient and keep scoring goals, with Champions League qualification a necessity. A sharp striker, Muriel could very well finish as Serie A’s top-scorer this season and will be aiming to continue his fine form.