RB Leipzig v Atalanta: German goalfest on the cards
RB Leipzig and Atalanta clash in what could be a fascinating UEL quarter-final, and Kevin Hatchard reckons there'll be plenty of excitement at the Red Bull Arena...
Red Bulls charging towards glory
Some football coaches are evangelists, wedded to a certain style and playbook. Regardless of the opposition, they will play their way. Others are coaching chameleons, happy to adapt their approach based on the players available and the demands of the club they are at.
RB Leipzig's Domenico Tedesco is one such tactical shapeshifter. At Schalke, a team he once led to a second-placed finish, he played football that was all about physicality and turning fine margins his way. It was often ugly to watch, but it was successful for a time, and the amount of effort required of the players was always going to chime with what the public in Gelsenkirchen wanted. It sounds like a cliché, but in the working-class Ruhr area, they appreciate players putting a shift in.
At RB Leipzig, the 36-year-old has shown he can play a far more attacking style, and a talented group of players has adapted to his demands. Leipzig have been the Bundesliga's form team since the turn of the year, and on Saturday they demolished Borussia Dortmund 4-1 in front of the first sell-out crowd at Signal Iduna Park for over two years.
This isn't a team that's reliant on one or two individuals. Yes, Christopher Nkunku has been outstanding all season, but there is good support from Dani Olmo, Andre Silva, Emil Forsberg, Yussuf Poulsen and Dominik Szoboszlai. In the Bundesliga alone, there are nine different Leipzig players who have scored at least three goals.
Leipzig dropped out of the Champions League under Tedesco's predecessor Jesse Marsch, but they have impressed in the UEL so far, seeing off Real Sociedad after two entertaining matches. Their last-16 tie with Tedesco's old club Spartak Moscow never took place, as Russian sides were thrown out of UEFA competitions.
Tedesco doesn't have many injury concerns, and has options throughout the side. Tyler Adams and Yussuf Poulsen could both miss out with knocks.
Le Dea seeking another German scalp
Atalanta beat Bayer Leverkusen home and away in the previous round, having seen off Greek champions Olympiakos in the playoff round. It says a lot about the stellar work done by coach Gian Piero Gasperini that we now expect the Bergamo-based side to be involved in European knockout football. Before the veteran arrived, Atalanta hadn't been involved in continental competition since the early 1990s, but during his tenure they have enjoyed five consecutive seasons in either the Europa League or the Champions League.
Atalanta lost at home to title-chasing Napoli at the weekend, but their general form is good, with six wins in ten in all competitions. They have won three of their last four on the road, including UEL victories in Athens and Leverkusen. Their hopes of finishing in Serie A's top four appear to be fading (they are eight points behind Juventus, albeit with a game in hand), but they are still in the mix for UEL qualification.
It remains to be seen whether striker Duvan Zapata will play a part, after he was named on the bench ahead of schedule at the weekend. Defender Rafael Toloi is struggling with injury, and Josip Ilicic has been out since January because of mental health issues.
Leipzig a touch short at odds-on
RB Leipzig are the 1.86 favourites here in the Match Odds market, and that's understandable when you consider they have won 11 of their last 15 games in all competitions. However, Atalanta have plenty of recent European experience, and what they did over two legs against Bayer Leverkusen has to be respected.
Therefore, I'll look to the goals markets instead, and back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.75. That bet has paid out in eight of Leipzig's last 11 games in all competitions, and both games against Real Sociedad featured four goals. Atalanta are a little more circumspect than they used to be, but seven of their last 13 matches have contained a minimum of three goals.
Nkunku to make his mark again
French forward Christopher Nkunku has been RB Leipzig's best player by quite a distance this season, and I'd actually go as far as to say he's been the Bundesliga's MVP this term. He has scored 16 goals in the league and set up 11 more, and he scored seven Champions League goals, including a hat-trick against Manchester City.
Nkunku scored against Dortmund, and he has netted in eight of his last 13 appearances. I'll back him to score here at an incredibly generous 2.74.
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