Champions League: Underwhelming Atletico to get the job done


THE Champions League continues on Wednesday night and European football fanatic Jonny O'Sullivan (@libero_the) picks out his favourite fancies in matches not involving Premier League interest.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Atalanta | Wednesday 11th December 2019, 17:55 | BT Sport

With qualifying for the Champions League latter stages proving to be one of the more complex riddles, the final day of the group stages should prove entertaining enough. In Group C, Atalanta need to beat Shakhtar in Ukraine and hope that Manchester City don’t lose at Dinamo Zagreb in order to progress.

Shakhtar have been fairly decent in the Champions League this season and have proved resilient and tough to beat. However, this has hardly resulted in dominant performances bringing three points. Their only win was in fact against their last opponents in a game where the result flattered them as Atalanta were far better than their 2-1 defeat.

Since then an impressive 1-1 against Manchester City and a professional 2-0 against Dinamo Zagreb has led the Italians down a path where victory would pull off one of the more unlikelier escapes into the latter stages.

A European corner has been turned in Atalanta’s recent fixtures and momentum appears to be on the Italians side. Not playing their matches in their home stadium and naivety has proved to be stumbling blocks but a way out is still possible. This is something Gian Piero Gasperini's men can be extremely proud of.

Shakhtar have been conceding a decent amount of goals of late. Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb on two occasions have scored two or more in recent matches and Atalanta pose more of a threat than both these teams going forward.

The return fixture saw Atalanta missing chance, after chance. This will likely be a repeat as the visitors will be desperate to make history and join Juventus and Napoli as the representatives of Italy in Europe's elite competition in February.

On top of this, Atalanta have scored two or more against Lazio, Napoli, Dinamo Zagreb, Roma and Torino this season, whilst also getting on the scoresheet in both matches against Manchester City and Juventus. They have the tools to upset any defence in world football and their eagerness to win could be overbearing for the Ukrainians.

Atalanta to score Over 1.5 Goals (1/1 Coral) is the call.

Atletico Madrid v Lokomotiv Moscow | Wednesday 11th December 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport

Atletico Madrid are a fairly dull team to watch. In fact, if there is any game of any standard on at the same time then the chances are it will be more fun to watch. However, they seem pretty predictable so there is value in the angle of Atletico Madrid to win and Under 3.5 Goals (4/5 Coral) on Wednesday evening.

Atleti basically possess the same raw aggression which has made Diego Simeone's men so tough to beat and successful in the past decade or so. Jan Oblak is arguably the best keeper in the world and most of their games’ highlights reel contain a superb save from the Slovenian.

Joao Felix will be exceptional but is still young and cannot be expected to carry Atleti on his back in the absence of Antoine Griezmann, whilst Diego Costa has a slipped disc so is out for the foreseeable future. Alvaro Morata will continue to show superb movement but miss easy chances, so he cannot be counted on to score a sufficient amount of goals for a team with the ambitions of Atletico.

The likes of Thomas Lemar and Angel Correa are not consistent enough to be deemed as regulars by Simeone, which results in the likes of Koke and Saul Niguez being used as wide midfielders. Although both these players are draped in quality, they are hardly explosive and innovative. Quite often, most of Atletico's Madrid threat comes from Kieran Tripper and Renan Lodi which can lead their use of early crosses to become fairly predictable.

This is hardly the most favourable write up of Atletico; although they always manage to find a way to be competitive. Their superb defence quite often leads to one goal being enough to grab all three points.

With just 16 goals in 16 games this season, Atletico share the same amount of as 17th-places Mallorca in La Liga, whilst the likes of Osasuna, Alaves, Levante and Granada have all scored more. This makes it even more remarkable that Atletico are competitive in the league and would have gone level on points with Barcelona if they had beaten the Catalans on 1st December.

A 2-0 Atletico win against Lokomotiv in the reverse fixture should be expected to be repeated on Wednesday. With just four shots on-target, Atleti hardly peppered the Russian goal and this is a story of their season. There is very little danger of the Spaniards scoring enough goals to really threaten this pick.

Lokomotiv's Champions League has not been perfect. The ‘Group of Death’ depleted all their confidence, which has shown in a few of their performances. They have struggled to really get their campaign started offensively as they have averaged less than a goal per-game. In the reverse fixture, they only managed three shots on-target despite taking place in Moscow.

This game may not be the most exciting fixture of the matchday, but it should be expected that Atletico grab all three points to ensure that they reach the latter stages of the competition once more. They have reached the final twice and won a Europa League under Simeone whilst playing efficient football. Why would they change a winning formula here?

Best Bets

Shakhtar Donetsk v Atalanta – Atalanta to score Over 1.5 Goals (1/1 Coral)

Atletico Madrid v Lokomotiv Moscow – Atletico Madrid to win and Under 3.5 Goals (4/5 Coral)

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