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Champions League: Atalanta in the Spotlight at San Siro

Atalanta vs Valencia

It was hard to envision either Atalanta or Valencia making it to the Champions League knockout round given how they started the competition.

The Italians had just one point in their first four group matches, while the Spaniards found themselves behind last year’s semi-finalists Ajax as well as Chelsea in the group. But both clubs were able to rally in time and picked up some big wins to make it through to the last 16.

Atalanta will come into the match at the San Siro in fine form having won three of their last four in Serie A. Meanwhile, Valencia have gone winless in their last three and find themselves way down in seventh in the La Liga table.

 

Talking Points

The Atalanta scoring machine

After a rough start to their debut campaign, Atalanta’s prolific attack finally woke up in their last two games to produce some Champions League 2020 highlights. They handled Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 at home and won 3-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk to secure qualification as the second-place team behind Manchester City.

Atalanta have been scoring goals for fun in Serie A all season. They have 63 goals in 24 games, by far the most in the league (Lazio are second at 55). They recorded back-to-back 5-0 wins at home against AC Milan and Parma and also thrashed Torino 7-0 away last month. That was their second seven-goal game this year after a 7-1 win over Udinese.

After a surprise 2-2 draw at home against Genoa, they’ve bounced back with consecutive 2-1 wins at Fiorentina and against Roma.

It speaks to Atalanta’s sheer depth of attacking quality that their last six goals have been scored by six different players. Josip Ilicic is having a sensational season and is leading the way with 14 goals. Luis Muriel is second with 13, while last season’s top scorer Duvan Zapata has chipped in with 9.

But it doesn’t stop with those three, as Robin Gosens, Papu Gomez, and Mario Pasalic have also provided 8, 7, and 7 goals, respectively.

Champions League: Duvan Zapata is aiming to challenge Valencia as they clash at San Siro
Duvan Zapata celebrates with Atalanta after scoring against Napoli

Atalanta have won five of their last seven games at home, but they don’t have a great home record overall. They’ve already lost five times at home this season, with the latest one coming against second-from-bottom SPAL last month.

Valencia’s away woes

Not only did Valencia qualify from the so-called “Group of Death” in this year’s Champions League, they also won it. They topped the group after a stunning 1-0 win at Ajax in their final game. They also defied expectations by beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, although they were significantly outplayed in that match.

Curiously, Valencia’s away form this season in La Liga has been nowhere near as good. In fact, they  were recently on the receiving end of a couple of three-goal defeats against relegation-threatened Mallorca (4-1) and surprise package Getafe (3-0). They were also knocked out of the Copa del Rey after a 2-1 defeat away to Granada.

A major factor in Valencia’s struggles this season has been the decline of their defence. Once one of the top defences in Spain, they are now at the bottom half of the table, conceding 34 goals already in 24 games. More worryingly, 23 of those goals have come away from home.

At home, Valencia have shown they are still capable of competing with the big sides. They came from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Atletico Madrid over the weekend. They also drew 1-1 with Real Madrid back in December and beat Barcelona 2-0 last month, handing Quique Setien his first defeat as Barca boss.

But it remains to be seen whether Albert Celades’ side can continue to produce those types of results away from the Mestalla.

Centre-back Gabriel Paulista, who scored against Atleti, also picked up a serious-looking ankle injury, although he was already suspended for the first leg. And with their other regular centre-back Ezequiel Garay out for the season with a knee injury, Mouctar Diakhaby will likely partner Eliaquim Mangala in the centre of defence.

 

History

This will be the very first time Atalanta and Valencia will meet in a UEFA competition match.

Valencia are in the Champions League round of 16 for the first time since the 2012/13 season. They are 2-4 in two-legged ties against Italian opposition.

Valencia lost the 2001 Champions League final at the San Siro, the venue for the first leg. The Spaniards have yet to win at the famous stadium against Italian opposition (three draws, one loss)

 

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