The top clubs in Europe return to Champions League action and we’ll be reviewing them all here! The round of 16, second leg matches begin this week and will carry on into mid-March.
Up next in our series of previews is Italian club Atalanta from Group C traveling to Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain to face Group H’s Valencia. Atalanta enters this match with a huge 4-1 advantage from the home leg. Valencia has been better on the road during the domestic season, but have been less effective in the Champions League. This match will prove to be very unique as the world tries to combat Coronavirus as this game will be played with no fans in sight.
Here’s a look at the clubs:
Atalanta is currently residing in fourth place in Serie A. They are still in contention for everything except first and second position, and they are trailing by six points to the third-place team, Inter, with one fewer game played. Atalanta falls into the same unique position that RB Leipzig (who also play today), they are better on the road than at home. At home, they have secured 20 points from 12 matches, have a +14 goal differential, and have averages of almost 3 goals scored per game and a concession rate just shy of 1.5 goals per game. In away games, they have 28 points from 13 matches, a +22 goal differential, and score just shy of three goals per game while conceding barely above one goal per game.
Group C of the Champions League was a veritable train wreck outside of Manchester City. Atalanta advanced from the group stages with only seven points. They recorded wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb while managing a home draw with Manchester City. Through the group stage and leg one, Atalanta is averaging 2 goals per home contest while conceding 1. However, in away games, they have conceded three goals per game and scored only 1.3 goals per game. Despite that, their first-leg performance dropping four goals on Valencia has them in a great position heading into Leg 2.I expect them to play their standard, free-flowing game, although they could tighten up a little if Valencia manages to find the net.
Players to Watch:
Josip Ilicic: Ilicic has been absolutely unstoppable this season in the Serie A and currently holds fifth place in the top scorers in the league with 15 goals. If that’s not enough of a contribution, he’s also added five assists for the team. Like our next player to watch, he’s also doing it on an average just under 70 minutes per appearance. His goal scoring or assisting form hasn’t translated s well to the Champions League where he’s scored only one goal across six appearances. However, if we’re being honest the whole team has really struggled to find the back of the net with the exception of the Leg1 game against Valencia. I really think it’s only a matter of time until Atalanta breaks through and starts to see the net more frequently.
Luis Muriel: Muriel has played the role of super-sub in the Serie A for Atalanta. He has one of the best goal rates in the entire league coming at number six on the charts despite only nine starts. He has made 13 additional appearances as a substitute but is managing a goal every 70 minutes of playtime. He’s managing less than 42 minutes of time on the pitch for each of his league appearances. In the Champions League, his strike rate has elongated a little bit — all the way to one goal every 200 minutes. He’s made 2 starts and three substitute appearances for a combined total of 200 minutes. I think he’ll come on in this game for fresh legs and to help stretch an attacking Valencia team and could feasibly bag a goal, maybe even two.
Alejandro Gomez: Gomez in second in the Serie A for assists with ten and he’s been integral to their success so far this season. It definitely doesn’t help that he has also tacked on a number of goals (6) to help as well. Unlike most of his teammates, his form has carried over to some extent into the Champions League with a pair of assists and a goal so far. I expect Gomez to be the focal point for this game as Valencia is forced to chase. His creativity could find his assist stats climbing the Champions League charts.
Valencia has done well in La Liga and currently resides in the seventh position, although only the top two places are out of reach. Only five points separate fourth to seventh place in La Liga. Valencia has the third-best home form in the league allowing less than one concession per game and scoring about 1.65 goals per game. Their away form has been atrocious averaging less than one point per game. To further compound the problem, they have scored just over one goal per game but give up two goals on average.
True to form, Valencia has a terrible opening leg of the Champions League knockout round. They were beaten 4-1 by the Italian home team. Valencia won their group by virtue of a tiebreaker over Chelsea with eleven points. Away from home, Valencia managed two wins, a draw, and a loss, during which they scored an average of 1.25 goals per game and conceding one. They even managed one win and a draw ten men. At home, they have recorded a win, a loss, and a draw by virtue of 2 goals scored per game and 2 conceded. After their thumping in Italy, Valencia will need a monstrous performance to get back into this tie.
Players to Watch:
Maxi Gomez: Gomez is the team’s leading scorer in La Liga with nine goals and a pair of assists despite only making 17 starts (and five more appearances as a substitute). He has also played 700 minutes less than the second-highest scorer on the team with 8. However, this form hasn’t translated the Champions League which Valencia will need to see if they want any chance of remaining in the competition. So far, Gomez has only managed an assist over his seventy-minute average per Champions League game. Valencia has to overcome a major deficit and they will have to rely on their La Liga leading scorers to get back into the tie.
Rodrigo Moreno: Moreno has been phenomenal in La Liga for Valencia. He’s the leading source of assists for them work seven assists across 17 starts with four more substitute appearances. Moreno has also been somewhat limited in La Liga, with almost 750 fewer minutes than Parejo has played. So far he’s been one of Valencia’s best players in the Champions League with two goals and two assists in his five appearances. I think they will continue to play through Moreno and he will have to elevate his play to ask even higher level.
Daniel Parejo: Parejo is the second-highest scorer in La Liga with eight goals and three assists in 25 appearances. Unlike Gomez though, his form has continued into the Champions League where he has provided a goal and a pair of assists. If Gomez can’t find the net, Parejo will have to pick up the slack and start scoring in bunches or Valencia will be done for certain.
What to Expect:
Valencia is down huge and will have no choice but to get forward and try to salvage the tie with a big win at home.I am very interested to see how much advantage (if any) Valencia will have from being the home team in a match where no spectators are allowed due to Coronavirus transmission concerns in Spain. Ultimately, I think this is a monstrous margin to have to overcome in the best of home games (of which an empty stadium is probably not). Atalanta can afford to give up multiple goals before they get concerned and I really don’t think Valencia has enough in them to overcome the deficit.
Last Updated: March 9, 2020