Is Atalanta a Threat to PSG in the Champions League Quarters? And is Any Team in Europe More Fun to Watch Right Now?

Posted By Tyler Everett on July 18, 2020 - Last Updated on July 17, 2020
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The answers to the questions in the headline are “absolutely,” and “no chance,” respectively.

Whether you’ve been watching them live or just keeping an eye on their scores and highlights, you’re probably well aware of the damage Atalanta are doing in Serie A right now. And if they’re still somehow completely under your radar, that’s a shame.

This isn’t the first time we’ve written about this team on High Press Soccer. We flagged them in March, between Leg 1 and Leg 2 of the round of 16 Champions League match-up vs. Valencia, February (pre-round of 16) and all the way back in September, prior to UCL group play. You could say we appreciated their 77-goal output domestic play a year ago.

Considering their form since Serie A resumed on June 21*, we’re higher on them now than ever. And their opponent in the quarterfinals of the Champions League – they meet PSG on August 12 at 3 p.m. Eastern – means it’s time to once again ask not whether they are “this year’s Ajax,” but whether they can surpass the Dutch cinderella’s semifinal run a year ago.

*In eight games, including wins over sixth-place Napoli and fourth-place Lazio, these guys are 7-0-1. The only draw, last Saturday vs. Juventus, came thanks to a couple questionable bullshit?? (especially the second one, in the 90th minute) calls. Enjoy Atalanta’s goals in that one below, and tell me you buy both the handballs that set up CR7’s equalizing PKs.

Red-Hot Might Be An Understatement

Regardless, with seven wins and a draw, by a combined score of 23-9, these guys should have your attention. PSG fans who see a lesser-known brand in their crosshairs and think they have it easy have another thing coming. Or, in David Amoyal’s words …

Oddsmakers, though, seem to know better, as Atalanta is +200 to PSG’s +117. Futures odds to win the Champions League title also show respect for Atalanta, as they boast the fifth-best odds (+1,000) – ahead of Barcelona (+1,100) and Juventus (+1,700) — despite a quarterfinal clash with second-favorite PSG (+375).

Before breaking down how I see their showdown with PSG playing out, I want to look more closely at the Atalanta attack.

How They Stack Up With Europe’s Best

Is the 93-goal (about 2.8 per game) output this year fluky? Possibly, according to understat, as that’s considerably greater than their xG of 78.59. I’d still argue that you should be more impressed with that xG than concerned by the fact they’re exceeding it. The xG in domestic play for Europe’s top-scoring clubs, from most xG per game to least, is below. Atalanta stack up just fine with even the continent’s highest-flying clubs.

  • PSG (75 goals in 27 games): 76.42 xG/2.83 xG per game
  • Bayern Munich: (100 goals in 34 games): 92.85 xG/2.73 xG per game
  • Man City (93 goals in 36 games): 94.9 xG/2.64 xG per game
  • Atalanta (93 goals in 33 games): 78.59 xG/2.38 xG per game
  • Liverpool (77 goals in 36 games): 73.17 xG/2.03 xG per game

Who Are These Guys?

It’s also remarkable to see a team get its offense from so many different sources. Atalanta lacks “household names,” but maybe it’s our fault we’re not more familiar with the following players.

Remember the names below come August: the top scorers are Colombians Luis Muriel (17 goals, one assist) and Duván Zapata (16 goals, five assists) and Slovenian Josip Ilicic (15 goals, five assists).

In addition to those three, three other Atalanta players are also flirting with 10-goal seasons: Croatian Mario Pasalic (nine goals, five assists), German Robin Gosens (nine goals, eight assists) and Ukrainian Ruslan Malinovskiy (seven goals, three assists).

And we haven’t even mentioned Serie A assist leader Alejandro “Papu” Gómez, the 32-year-old Argentine midfielder with 16.

About The PSG Match-Up

There’s a reason the Parisians are the second-favorite to win this whole tournament. In addition to the firepower up top that makes them dangerous every year, their defense also appears better than it’s been in recent years.

They weren’t in the toughest group, but what PSG did in group play is a sign that maybe this year’s team is different. Regardless of how you feel about Group A (then-struggling Real Madrid, Galatasaray and Club Brugge), their 17-2 total score over five wins and a draw was impressive. They also deserve credit for eliminating a tough BVB squad in the round of 16. Domestically, they were also OK defensively this year, giving up 24 goals in 27 Ligue 1 matches.

The reasons to question this team are its shaky recent history in the UCL (and the pressure that comes with the whole “win the Champions League or the season is a complete failure” thing). The rust — their last competitive game was in March — is also worrisome. Lastly, over just 90 minutes (this year’s quarters and semis will be played at a neutral site in Portugal over one leg instead of two), an upset seems even more likely than it would over two legs.

So yeah, I’m going with Atalanta here (especially at +200), if you couldn’t tell. They seem to have the same swagger that Ajax did a year ago, and I love the fact their opponents can’t key on just one player.

Nothing Seems Out Of Reach

I also don’t see anyone in this year’s field with the type of defense that would comfortably shut down a squad in the groove Atalanta are in right now. Both Madrid teams would make life tough, but RM will be lucky to get through Man City after the way leg 1 of the round of 16 played out. And while Atleti once again has a stout back line, this is not the defensive juggernaut Diego Simeone has coached in previous years.

So am I calling Atalanta my favorite to win the whole damn thing? At this point, not quite, but they’ve got a legit shot to pull another upset or two if they can knock off PSG. And it’s hard to imagine regretting putting a few bucks down on them at +1,000.

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