Borussia Dortmund v Atalanta Thursday February 15, 18:00 Live on BT Sport 1
Stoger's Dortmund far from the finished article
What a rollercoaster ride this season has been for fans of Borussia Dortmund. BVB took 19 points from their first seven Bundesliga matches of the campaign under new coach Peter Bosz, but the Dutchman's reign spiralled out of control more quickly than anyone could have predicted. His insistence on a high defensive line spread panic among his defenders, midfield fulcrum Julian Weigl saw his confidence evaporate in a confusing new system, and a series of injuries did Bosz few favours.
Bosz was dismissed in December, and his replacement Peter Stoger is seen as a safe pair of hands who can deliver a top-four finish and perhaps make progress in the Europa League. Stoger is yet to lose a Bundesliga game as Dortmund coach, but while his charges have recently delivered back-to-back league victories, neither of those wins was particularly convincing against sides who are currently in the bottom two.
Stoger himself admits he hasn't yet found the right balance between defence and attack at Signal Iduna Park, and it's alarming that die Schwarzgelben has won just two of their last 11 home games in all competitions. Under last season's coach Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund were almost flawless on home soil.
There are some rays of light in the gloom. On-loan Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi has scored three goals in his first two games, and Marco Reus is finally back after missing more than 250 days of action with ligament damage. Batshuayi's arrival seems to have lit a spark in Andre Schurrle, who scored a winner at Koln recently, and set up a great goal for Mario Gotze against Hamburg.
Great Gasperini still has Atalanta punching above their weight
According to Atalanta's inspirational coach Gian Piero Gasperini, coaching is like baking a cake, and you have work to constantly improve the mix of ingredients. That cake has tasted pretty good in the last year or so. Atalanta surprised everyone by finishing fourth last term, and this season they have topped their Europa League group and reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia.
Atalanta's success last term has cost them some players, with midfielder Franck Kessie and attacking right-back Andrea Conti joining Milan, and midfielder Roberto Gagliardini moving to Inter. However, Argentinian forward Alejandro Gomez has stepped up with a glut of goals and assists, and a well-organised defence has conceded just 28 goals in 24 Serie A matches.
Atalanta were unbeaten in their Europa League group, taking six points off Everton and four off Lyon. They won at Napoli last month to knock the Serie A leaders out of the Coppa Italia, and in Serie A they have won away to Roma and Milan in recent months.
Dortmund too short against accomplished Atalanta
Borussia Dortmund are the 1.85 favourites here, and I just can't get on board with that price. They haven't play really well at home for a long time, and against a confident and well-coached Atalanta who won't be overawed by the atmosphere at Signal Iduna Park, they shouldn't be odds-on.
Atalanta drew in Lyon and won 5-1 at Everton, and they have won five of their last six away matches in all competitions. I have to lay the hosts.
Even if BVB don't win, Batshuayi can make an impact
It may seem odd to lay the hosts but still back one of their players to score, but Michy Batshuayi has been outstanding since arriving in Germany. He has excellent movement, can protect the ball and has shown great striker's instincts. At 2.30 to find the net in 90 minutes, he's worth considering.