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All Hail Atalanta, The Club On The Verge Of UCL Quarters That Doesn’t Give AF About Number Conventions

Atalanta crushed Valencia 4-1 thanks to three goals by jersey numbers over 30.

Soccer is a sport often defined by tradition. A player’s jersey number is often indicative of his or her position on the pitch, a practice dating back more than a century. 

But Atalanta players don’t give a fuck about jersey number conventions, and they’re on the verge of taking their No. 88s and No. 95s and No. 72s right to the Champions League quarterfinals.

Atalanta smashed Valencia 4-1 in the first leg of their UCL Round of 16 match on Wednesday at the San Siro. The second leg in is March 10 at the Mestalla.

Every sport has its numerical conventions. In basketball, jersey numbers are typically some combination of the digits 0-5, as those are the numbers a referee can signal using one for each hand when calling a foul. In American football, certain positions are required by rule to wear certain numbers. 

It’s rare in soccer to see first-team players wearing numbers above 30, because not everyone wants to emulate the Longstaff boys of Newcastle. Typically, the starting goalkeeper takes No. 1, the defenders take the next few numbers followed by midfield and forwards. It’s a numbering convention shirked by only a few; wearing the No. 10 jersey means something and is coveted by many. (We outlined what position numbers means here.) 

But Atalanta doesn’t much care about convention. The first team features nine players with numbers above 30 — noone wears No. 1. (The club has retired Nos. 12 and 14.)

On Wednesday, Atalanta’s goals came from players wearing the Nos. 33, 72, 11 (yawn) and 72 again. La Dea (The Goddess) started four of its players with high-numbered jerseys, with another coming on as a second-half sub.

The club’s shirking of convention is laudable, and we’re surprised we don’t see it more often across Europe. Why be just another No. 7 or No. 10 when you can be the No. 88?

Atalanta vs Valencia Highlights

Speaking of 88, Mario Pašalić, a Chelsea loanee, had the first great chance of the match only to see his effort saved by Jaume Doménech. 

But this was not a game for Doménech. The Valencia sucker keeper wears No. 1 and he was soon picking the ball out of his net more times than he’d like.

Atalanta opened the scoring in the 16th minute when Hans Hateboer, sporting No. 33 on his back, scored the first of his two goals.

Next up it was No. 72’s turn. Josip Iličić, who at 32 would normally be wearing a jersey number below his age, ripped a shot past the No. 1 in the opposing goal three minutes before halftime.

Atalanta did score one goal via a normal-numbered plebian. We’ll let it slide though because Remo Freuler, No. 11, scored this beauty from the edge of the area in the 57th minute.

Meanwhile, on the other end, Atalanta’s No. 95, goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, was making big saves to deny Valencia, including a massive stop in the 61st minute on Maxi Gómez.

Moments after the save, Hateboer had his second, a smidge fortunate the VAR didn’t call it back for a teammate being offside in the buildup.

Valencia finally got on the board through its Russian winger and friend of The18 Dennis Cheryshev, who scored two minutes after coming on in the 64th minute. Cheryshev is No. 11 on the pitch but No. 18 in our hearts

The away goal will give Los Ches some hope heading into the second leg, but unless Dani Parejo wants to trade in his No. 10 shirt for a No. 89 shirt, it appears Atalanta is well on its way to a European quarterfinal for the first time since reaching the quarters of the UEFA Cup in 1991. 

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