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Atalanta, the Italian upstarts menacing PSG

Issued on: 12/08/2020 – 07:11

PSG are once against seen as Frances best bet for a Champions League victory, despite Lyon's shock elimination of Juventus last week. But they face tough opposition in Wednesday's quarter-final — in one leg on neutral territory in Lisbon due to the pandemic – in the shape of Atalanta, the Italian side that have emerged from nowhere to play some of Europes most exciting football.

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PSG famously collapsed against Barcelona and Manchester United in recent years Champions League knockout rounds. But this time its not the old stalwarts of elite football threatening to put the Parisian nouveaux riches in their place, but Atalanta, the scrappy Italian upstarts in their first ever Champions League season.

Atalanta have just had their best year in their 113-year history – finishing third, as the Serie As top scorers with 98 goals. This goalscoring prowess is the product of an atypical style in Italian football, with fast-paced, risk-taking attacking waves, in contrast to the highly organised, sometimes defensive play that has long characterised the Serie A.

The teams barnstorming season provided much-needed hope to its native town of Bergamo, among the cities hit hardest by the coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic. Atalanta scored even higher than Serie A grandees Lazio, Roma and AC Milan. Their 5-0 thrashing of Milan in December – the former titans worst defeat in more than two decades – was an especially delightful moment for Atalanta, leaving no one doubting their rise to the forefront of the Italian game.

Atalantas attacking prowess

Argentinian club captain Papu Gomez has been central to Atalantas success. As a creative midfielder in the style of Paul Scholes, Gomez is a menace to defenders with his darting runs, space-creating manoeuvres and incisive passes to strikers and wingers.

In front of Gomez plays Atalantas top scorer this season, Duvan Zapata, who signed for the club in January 2020 after two years on loan from Sampdoria. Since he joined the Bergamo-based side for good, the Colombian scored 12 goals in just 19 games, showing a redoubtable knack for using his height in headers. He also possesses lethal finishing skills with his feet and a gift for the nitty-gritty of holding up play with his back to the goal, enabling reinforcements to arrive when the Atalanta attack is in a tight spot.

However, Zapatas most frequent strike partner, Slovenian forward Josip Illicic, will be out of action in the PSG clash due to personal reasons. This will no doubt disappoint Atalanta fans, seeing as Illicic grabbed the footballing worlds attention by scoring all four goals in Atalantas previous Champions League match, their 4-3 victory over Valencia in the second leg of the last 16.

Given Illicics absence, Zapatas fellow Colombian Luis Muriel is likely to feature in the Atalanta attack. He has long been likened to former Brazil and Inter striker Ronaldo for his menacing runs at defenders and deadly finishing skills as well as his inconsistent form. Yet despite some poor runs of form, Muriels track record of 18 goals in 24 games in 2019-20 shows what an asset he can be for Atalanta.

Although the Bergamo clubs defence has been shakier than its attack, Dutch holding midfielder Marten de Roon has been an impressive talent, especially in terms of prescient positioning to disrupt opponents attacks through tackling and interception alike. Further back in the Atalanta lineup, de Roons fellow Dutchman Hans Hateboer has won plaudits for his talents as a versatile full-back, equally proficient in defence and attack – especially in light of his two goals when Atalanta made easy work of Valencia in their 4-1 win in the last 16 first leg.

PSGs knockout malaise

On Wednesday night, Atalanta will face a much better-funded outfit, desperate to prove a point. Ever since PSGs Qatari owners took over in 2011 and started pouring in money, they were supposed to be the French team that finally makeRead More – Source