January 31, 2019 / 2:01 PM / 19 days ago

Late-blossoming Zapata upstages Ronaldo

MILAN (Reuters) - Duvan Zapata did not make Colombia’s World Cup squad last year and his transfer from Sampdoria to Atalanta in the summer caused barely a stir.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Atalanta v Juventus - Stadio Atleti Azzurri, Bergamo, Italy - December 26, 2018 Atalanta's Duvan Zapata celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Yet six months later Zapata is enjoying the most prolific spell of his career, his form upstaging even Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo as his goals have helped Atalanta storm up the Serie A table.

Zapata has scored in each of his last 10 games in all competitions, netting a remarkable 17 goals — including two

against Juventus on Wednesday which knocked them out of the Coppa Italia and handed them their first domestic defeat of the season.

“I’m in a team that makes me score goals,” he told state broadcaster RAI after Atlanta’s 3-0 win on Wednesday. “I try

to be ready to make the most of my chances.”

Juve’s defeat ended their hopes of a fifth successive league and cup double and means that, for the first time since

2014 when Napoli won the Coppa Italia, a team other than the Turin side will win a domestic Italian trophy.

Juventus, 11 points clear at the top of Serie A, will continue their chase for an eighth successive league title

when they host Parma on Saturday.

Atalanta host Cagliari on Monday in their quest for a place in next season’s Champions League.

The Bergamo-based side, who have become habitual overachievers under the wily leadership of Gian Piero Gasperini, are seventh with 32 points, three points outside the Champions League places.

Zapata, a bulky forward with explosive pace, is at his fourth club and in his sixth season in Serie A where he has often been a bit-part player.

After joining Napoli from Estudiantes in 2013, the 27-year-old scored five goals in his first Serie A season, followed by six in the next.

His tally has increased season-by-season since as he netted eight and 10 with Udinese and 11 with Sampdoria last season.

He made a slow start at Atalanta, failing to score in his first 10 league games and leaving Gasperini fishing for explanations as to what had gone wrong. But once he got off the mark, the goals have not stopped flowing.

Zapata is now on 15 league goals, level with Ronaldo and one behind leading scorer Fabio Quagliarella.

One key change is that Gasperini has stopped using him as a target man and found him to be more productive when facing goal,

where he uses his power and speed to charge at defences.

“With Gasperini I had to change the way I play again — never with my back to the door. If there is space, I have to go

for the byline,” he said.

“The profi’s style of game is a little bit different and he asked me for other types over movement,” he told Colombia’s Caracol radio in an interview. “It was complicated until I managed to adapt.

“I feel more comfortable each Sunday and this is now beginning to show.”

Gasperini added: “He’s doing extraordinary things. If he continues like this until the end of the season, he will certainly in the group of top strikers.”

Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond

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