Friday 21st April. By Edward Stratmann.
Atalanta’s Rafael Toloi continued his wonderful season by putting in a tremendous showing vs one of his former employers, AS Roma, on the weekend.
The Brazilian, who’s been a mainstay of Gian Piero Gasperini’s brilliantly managed outfit, illustrated emphatically why he’s been one of Serie A’s finest defenders this season, while also showing his former club what a quality player he’s now become.
Throughout the 1-1 draw, La Dea’s right sided central defender, undertook his role in an aggressive, whole hearted, yet highly thoughtful manner, as his positioning and approach served as a fascinating component of Gasperini’s game plan.
The most eye-catching aspect of his performance was the way he was given clear licence to step out and apply pressure to Diego Perotti, Roma’s left winger, when he was unmarked in the left half space. With Roma customarily funneling many of their attacks down their left hand side, 41% in this fixture, Toloi’s proactive approach to intensively mark Perotti worked wonders in blunting the home side’s effectiveness here.
Moreover, by pushing out, Toloi enabled Atalanta to generate 3v2 overloads down this flank, thus ensuring their left wing back, Hans Hateboer, left central midfielder, Franck Kessie and Toloi gained an important numerical advantage over Perotti and Mario Rui.
Interestingly, in the second half, with Roma midfielder, Radja Nainggolan, persistently dropping into more attacking positions near Toloi, the Atalanta stopper applied a similar tactic to nullifying the Belgian, which once again worked very effectively indeed.
Although this front footed strategy often looked reckless and irresponsible, the other members of Atalanta’s central defensive back three and the support of Hateboer and Kessie gave him crucial cover in varying forms to provide structural stability.
This responsibility suited Toloi perfectly, for he’s such an astute reader of the play and makes excellent decisions when to step out or hold his position. His aptitude in this regard is suitably illustrated by the fact he’s second in Serie A for most interceptions per game on 3.3 and currently ranks joint 11th for tackles pg with 2.7.
Other highlights from his performances came by way of his crafty passing ability in instigating Atalanta’s build up play and his unheralded dribbling quality when an opportunity presented itself. Moreover, it was terrific to see Toloi would vitally reciprocate his teammates’ defensive support and help them out whenever necessary too.
Operating alongside his trusty partners in crime at the back, Andrea Masiello and Mattia Caldara, he and his colleagues again evidenced precisely why Atalanta possess one of the most formidable backlines in Italy. And Toloi’s consistently high performance levels have been tremendously essential in the team with the fifth best defence in the league’s success.
Currently occupying a remarkable fifth place on the ladder, ahead of both Inter Milan and AC Milan, Toloi recently spoke of how much he’s enjoying life within Gasperini’s united outfit this term. “It’s certainly been a great season. For me and for everyone,” he told Tuttosport. “We are fighting to go to Europe, this is something wonderful. You feel the positivity in the squad, in the club and in the street when you meet the fans. We are really experiencing something incredible.
“I’m happy, I also really like to play in a back 3 because I can play aggressively and always try to get the ball forward and receive cover. The coach always asks us defenders, when possible, to accompany the action forward, we can now do both due to the mentality that we have acquired, especially because our structure is good. The collective is our strength.”
As a result of his exceptional output, the likes of Liverpool, Valencia and Galatasaray are reportedly registering an interest in the well-rounded stopper. But all that talk will have to be put on hold for now.
After all, Toloi’s main focus from now until the end of the campaign will be doing everything in his power to help La Dea maintain their league position and qualify for Europe. There’d certainly be no better way to cap off their tremendous season.
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