As Atalanta waved goodbye to two of the club’s most trusty servants in Giacomo Bonaventura and Andrea Consigli over the summer, there was indignation in Bergamo.
Aguably, the furore was focussed more on the latter’s sale than the former. Reaching the age of 25, it had long been seen as only a matter of time before the talented Bonaventura left.
It was AC Milan who came forward to claim him on deadline day after a move for Jonathan Biabiany had collapsed due to a previously undetected heart issue.
A key piece had been lost, but one that even the club hierarchy had admitted would soon be gone. But as Consigli followed him out the door on the final day of the transfer window, brows firmly furrowed and questions were asked.
A product of Atalanta’s famed academy, Consigli had been with La Dea through hell and high water. All the while, he proved himself one of Italy’s most underrated shot stoppers.
Why had such a reliable player been allowed to leave for a relegation rival in Sassuolo? And was a raw 22-year-old with negligible Serie A experience really ready to replace him?
Readily equipped or not, the task of taking over the gloves had fallen to Marco Sportiello. He would be baptised by fire. Months down the line, he remains relatively unscathed.
Not only that, but Sportiello has already built a reputation for himself as one for the future – and Sky Sport Italia’s Gianluca Di Marzio has reported Liverpool have already been in contact with Atalanta, and are strongly interested in the goalkeeper's services.
Back in early September, the question was whether Sportiello could successfully step into the spotlight at Atalanta. Now, it is what Liverpool would be getting if they do indeed get their hands on the Italian.
Sportiello has grown accustomed to playing under immense pressure from opponents at Atalanta. The Orobici have conceded the second most shots per game in Serie A this term at 15.5, according to WhoScored.
This isn’t necessarily a surprise given that Atalanta stuggled to hold on to the ball with a season-wide possession statistic of 45 percent. Sportiello has truly been up against it, as they say.
For the most part, the 22-year-old has held up well under the pressure. He’s posted seven clean sheets along the way, mostly against sides competing with Atalanta to beat the drop.
It would be natural to take something of a dim view on this point, as blanking top clubs would appear all the more impressive.
Yet the likes of Empoli and Hellas Verona are the types of sides the Orobici must get results against to stay in the top flight. His displays against fellow provincial outfits show an ability to get the job done when it is most expected.
When the big boys of Italian football have come around, it’s been more of a struggle for Sportiello. Inter, Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina and Lazio have all hit two plus goals past him over 90 minutes this term. Still, he hasn’t wilted against adversity.
Sportiello was particularly impressive against Juventus in Atalanta’s 2-1 loss in Turin last month, coming up with four tremendous saves to give his side a fighting chance.
There was little the Italian could do about either goal, and the stops he did make highlighted his greatest strength – reaction saves.
The 22-year-old excels at making close-range stops and taking on attackers one-on-one, possessing considerable reflexes and natural instincts. Per Squawka, his 71 saves see him rank first in Serie A, tied with fellow promising Italian Mattia Perin.
It’s Sportiello’s positioning that could use work at this point in his career, while he can at times be over-exuberant in coming off his line when not entirely necessary.
These are aspects of his game that can be fine-tuned with experience and consistent minutes – after all, this is only Sportiello’s first true top flight campaign to date.
Liverpool would be bringing in the Italian to serve as competition for Simon Mignolet, and possibly as a long-term replacement if he could overcome the resurgent Belgian.
The main issue is that at the outset Sportiello would likely struggle for minutes at Anfield, still young and having to transition to a new country, bigger stage and greater competition for a consistent place in the starting 11.
He’s shown all the markings of becoming a solid if not well above average goalkeeper, but possibly Liverpool would do well to wait and see how his career advances from here.
One season isn’t a great deal of evidence to go on with a young ‘keeper, and sitting on the bench with expectations weighing on his shoulders wouldn’t aid his development.
What Sportiello needs is consistent minutes to maximise his potential and show exactly how high his ceiling is – thus far, he’s done well to lay the groundwork.
Perhaps a deal which would see the Orobici immediately loaned back to his current club – as the Reds did with Divock Origi – would be the best course of action.
That would ensure that Liverpool wouldn’t miss out on a potential gem and suit an evolving Sportiello as well, giving him stability in the short-term, and great opportunity as he makes strides in the years to come.