The Champions League is back, and the two teams coming into this tie are looking at very different futures in the competition.
Manchester City have taken maximum points so far and are well on their way to clinching a spot in the knockout stages of the competition. Atalanta have not been quite as efficient – a 4-0 drubbing in their first match away to Dinamo Zagreb shocked everyone, followed by a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk courtesy of a stoppage time winner that has put Gian Piero Gasperini’s side on the brink of elimination. Losses in both of the next matches could eliminate the Italian side from progressing.
With that, how will Atalanta look to get the better of City and keep their Champions League hopes alive?
Probable Formation and Lineup
Gasperini has implemented the 3-4-1-2 set-up at Atalanta. In goal, Thomas Strakosha is the Italian’s number one, and will start. The defensive line has caused Atalanta issues. Lazio managed to claim a draw after going 3-0 down, and it continues to put pressure on the manager. They have continuously changed the back three every week, and this will most likely continue. Rafael Toloi, Andrea Masiello, and Berat Djimsiti could very well be the three Gasperini calls upon to attempt to stop Guardiola’s attacking powerhouse.
In midfield and attack, the team is more predictable. In the centre of midfield, Marten de Roon and Remo Freuler will attempt to limit the City’s creative midfielder. Out wide, Robin Gosens has been in fine form, and Hans Hateboer is likely to get the start on the right side. His crossing ability could be vital for Atalanta in their attacking play.
In a free role, Alejandro Gomez will be the man looking to cause City the most difficulty. While he often normally lines up on the left of the striker, the Argentine is given freedom to roam as he pleases. He excels at getting into small pockets of space to link Atalanta’s attackers. Josep Ilicic will start on the right – his abilities with the ball allows him to play off the main striker and drop deep to link up play. His positioning often leaves gaps in behind the opposition’s defence for another teammate to look to expose. Alongside him, Luis Muriel will start following his brace against Lazio. Duvan Zupata will be a huge miss, specifically his aerial ability, but Muriel has proven to be a worthy replacement.
Strengths and Tactics
As we touched on, Atalanta’s attacking players offer a huge amount of problems. Their 77 goals last campaign in Serie A led the league, and was the leading factor to their place in the Champions League this year. Gomez has been a revelation since Gasperini gave him license to roam. He is constantly involved in every passage of attacking play.
The wingbacks are both extremely adept at finding space to get crosses into the box. While their main threat for this type of opportunity will not be fit, Gosens and Hateboer possess the ability to send precise balls into the box. They will need to defend for large portions of this match, but when Atalanta regain possession, look for them to try and use these outlets to counter.
In Atalanta’s match against Shakhtar, Ilicic found success in baiting his central defensive marker out of position by dropping deep to pick up possession. Muriel and Gomez have the quickness to find this space left open for a chance on goal. The defensive pairing for City will need to be aware of potential developments like these. Communication will have to be key so that a midfielder could drop deep to cover this movement from Ilicic.
For all the goals that Atalanta score, they tend to concede a similar amount. Looking back to last season, they allowed 46 goals in Serie A. This number was the third most in the top half. This season, they do not seem any closer to resolving this issue. As we touched on earlier, the 4-0 defeat to Zagreb in the first match showed just how vulnerable they can be. Adding to that, they come into this match on the back of conceding 3 goals in the last 20 minutes at the weekend to draw 3-3. Another changed defensive line is expected, but there is no sign that they will be able to contain City’s attack.
Zupata will be a massive miss for the visitors. His aerial ability is unmatched at the club, and would have presented a huge problem for Guardiola. Muriel will give City a different type of look to prepare for, but Zapata’s injury is a massive blow, no matter how Muriel does.
In midfield, de Roon and Freuler will try and limit City’s attacking midfielders. The lack of players in this area could prove problematic, and City’s number eight’s should look to expose this area by dragging them wide to create numerical advantages with the wingers and fullbacks.
Gasperini will prepare his side in a much different manner. For this reason, I expect they will sit deep and cause City issues breaking them down. The pace they have on the counter will make them extremely dangerous. The likes of Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling should be able to provide the difference. I predict a cagey game in the first half before it opens up from a moment of magic from a City player to set the Blues on their way to a 2-1 win.
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