Fourteen goals in eight games! Atalanta ace Zapata fighting Ronaldo for Serie A Capocannoniere
- October 5, 2019
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The Colombian has suddenly burst into incredible scoring form, firing his team up the standings while attracting attention in Italy and further afield
Move over, Cristiano Ronaldo – there is a new Serie A sharpshooter in town!
While the Portuguese forward has captured all the headlines since swapping Real Madrid for Juventus in a stunning summer move, he is now having to share the spotlight at the summit of the top goalscorers’ standings with two unlikely rivals for this season’s Capocannoniere award.
One is a very familiar face, Fabio Quagliarella, the 35-year-old former Napoli and Juventus striker rolling back the years at Sampdoria.
The other man on 14 goals after 20 rounds of action is nowhere near as well-known, having a rather more circuitous route to stardom with spells at half a dozen clubs in three countries.
However, at 27, Duvan Zapata has exploded into life, with 14 goals (13 in Serie A and one in the Coppa Italia) in just eight games for Atalanta.
The Colombian has never previously stood out for his scoring prowess. As a youngster at America de Cali, he was more likely to be found out wide or supporting the centre-forward, and scored at a rate of less than once every five games.
He later thrived in a more central role after signing for Argentine side Estudiantes, smashing 22 goals in 46 matches in an impressive 18-month spell.
However, once Zapata left South America for the Serie A, he returned to a more discreet role, playing first as a utility forward or back-up for Gonzalo Higuain at Napoli before going on to Udinese and Samp, clubs where he impressed in fits and starts without ever really sustaining his obvious talent over an entire season.
The 2018-19 campaign looked set to be just as underwhelming. After 13 rounds, he had scored just once in Serie A. However, he has now netted in seven successive games, a remarkable run which includes a hat-trick against Udinese and four goals against Frosinone last weekend.
He’s made history along the way. In December, he became the first Serie A player since 1950 to score eight or more goals in a month, while his four-goal haul against Frosinone was the first ‘poker’ by an Atalanta player since 1966.
What makes his overall tally of 14 goals arguably even more impressive is that it includes just one penalty; by contrast, Ronaldo has converted five.
Furthermore, Zapata even has a double against Juventus to his name.
On December 26, the league leaders travelled to Bergamo with Ronaldo on the bench but were forced to call their Portuguese striker into action when, after taking the lead through a freak own goal, Zapata pegged them straight back with a brace that threatened to end the Bianconeri’s unbeaten start to the season.
None other than Leonardo Bonucci was made to look foolish on the Colombian’s opener, which was the product of a slick turn that sent the defender sprawling as he grasped thin air in search of his opponent.
For his second, Zapata somehow slipped through a mass of bodies in the box to put his side ahead. Ronaldo rescued the visitors with a late equaliser but there was no doubt that Atalanta’s No.91 had been the game’s best player.
He’ll also get another crack at Juventus next week, as his goal against Cagliari earlier this month set up a quarter-final clash with Cristiano & Co. in Bergamo.
Perhaps inevitably, Zapata’s sensational form has attracted interest from elsewhere. Inter are said to have earmarked the Colombian as a potential successor to Mauro Icardi should the Argentine leave San Siro, while city rivals AC Milan were also linked to his signature prior to signing Genoa goal machine Krzysztof Piatek.
There is also interest from the Premier League: West Ham, according to Italian media reports, filed an offer of £40 million ($52m) for Zapata’s services that was given short shrift by Atalanta.
Additionally, his resurgence as a goalscorer has caught the eye of the Colombian national team just in time for the start of preparations for the 2019 Copa America.
The player himself has kept a low profile throughout this breakout season, preferring to let his goals do the talking. But his agent admitted that they would take any offers seriously should they serve to advance his career.
“Are Inter interested? They are a very big club, among Italy and the world’s biggest,” Fernando Villarreal signalled to Gazetta dello Sport. “But they are just noises, I can categorically deny that there is an agreement for a transfer to Milan at the end of the season.
“In football you never say never. If there are opportunities for the club and player tomorrow we could talk about it, but right now Duvan’s world is only called Atalanta and he wants to give his best for those colours.”
Any comparisons with Ronaldo are of course purely incidental: he has never cleared the 15-goal mark in a single league season, while the Juve star has managed at least that figure (and often double or even triple) every year since 2005-06.
But there is no doubt that Zapata has electrified one of Italy’s traditional mid-table outfits, propelling them to seventh place in the Serie A standings, withing three points of fourth-placed AC Milan in the final Champions League spot.
With creative talents like Alejandro Gomez, Emiliano Rigoni and Josip Ilicic providing the spark and Zapata on fire, Atalanta have scored more goals (44) than any other side in Serie A this season, even Juve.
And while they may not be able to count on a long-term stay for the Colombian, the Bergamo side are most certainly enjoying the ride while it lasts.
Zapata’s improbable run has made Atalanta’s Champions League dream a distinct possibility.