ATALANTA host Valencia on Wednesday evening as the Last 16 of the Champions League continues. We asked Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) to analyses the odds and share his best bets.
Atalanta v Valencia | Wednesday 19th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Atalanta’s debut Champions League season continues on Wednesday night, becoming the first side in the competition’s history to make the Last 16 despite losing all three of their opening group stage matches.
The Bergamo club have been playing their European home ties in Milan at the historic San Siro whilst their Gewiss Stadium undergoes much-needed renovation making it totally unsuitable for occasions like this.
Gian Gasperini’s men are having another good season in Serie A, extending their lead over fifth-placed Roma to six points after beating their top four rivals 2-1 this past Saturday, coming from behind to pick up a deserved win.
Substitute Mario Pasalic, on loan from Chelsea, scored just 19 seconds after coming off the bench which is a manager’s dream, and simply adds to the plaudits of the experienced Italian boss. Pasalic’s introduction allowed the versatile Papu Gomez to move into a more advanced role and gave them much more creativity so Gomez could well play in that role from the start in this match.
Like so many of the sides that have made it through the group stages, Atalanta have some wonderful attacking players within the squad to call upon and it’s brought about 71 goals in 30 domestic and European games combined with La Dea top scorers in Serie A this season.
Duvan Zapata has only this calendar year returned from a three-month injury lay-off but the Colombian’s absence allowed Gasperini to experiment and it reaped rewards with some big wins that the supporters will savour for a long time to come, including a 7-1 win over Udinese, 5-0 wins against Parma and Milan and 3-0 victory against bitter rivals Brescia.
Ilicic in fantastic form
The man that seemingly benefitted the most from Zapata’s absence was Josip Ilicic. The Slovenian International has found the net 10 times in his previous nine matches and his link-up play is integral to the success of the team. Betfair are offering 17/10 that Ilicic will score anytime here and I’m willing to take that on.
Valencia are without both first choice centre-backs – Gabriel Paulista through suspension/injury and Ezequiel Garay who misses our through injury. The error prone Eliaquim Mangala will step in alongside Mouctar Dialhaby and I think Ilicic will target the former to get the better of.
In the form the 32 year-old is in, there aren’t many more strikers in Europe that would want on the end of a chance in the six yard box above him currently. I expect the home side to have the better of this game so the lethal front man should get chances against a side that have conceded seven times in three games.
Valencia’s results can be described as inconsistent at best in what has turned out to be a very poor La Liga season. The 4-4-2 system has it’s pros and cons but it looks weak when you take out some crucial components of it. There’s no doubting that Atalanta fans would have been delighted when the draw was made considering the much stronger opponents they could be facing instead.
Valencia will want to keep this right and take some form of a result back to the intimidating Mestalla where they traditionally put in their best performances. Their last nine Champions League away trips have seen them score only five goals and they were heavily reliant on their defensive resolve in the group stage wins at Chelsea and Ajax to get the three points.
With a make-shift back four lining up here, I’m not sure Los Che will have the required personnel to cope with the Italians' forward line.
Atalanta’s domestic home games this season have averaged a massive 4.33 goals and every single one of them has gone over the 1.5 goal line. The 21/20 with Betway on Atalanta to win and Over 1.5 Goals therefore appeals and will be my second selection.
With around 40,000 of the Black and Blue fans set to make the trip to Milan to support their team, Gasperini’s players shouldn’t take too long to re-adjust to their surroundings and I’m backing the home side to come out on top in this home leg at the very least.