LINE: Atalanta +260 | Draw +290 | PSG -107
KICK OFF: Wednesday, August 12th, 3PM EST
WHERE: Estadio do Sport, Lisbon, Portugal
WATCH: CBS Sports in the US
Between the Atalanta appreciation posts (the latest of which we posted on July 18), the High Press Soccer Champions League quarterfinal predictions and what I wrote in the UCL QF Watchability Rankings, it’s getting difficult to come up with a whole lot to say about this match-up.
Oh, and while we’re plugging our content this week, the latest High Press Pod featured the most salacious rapid-fire round yet, so stay tuned through the end of that one.
But I’ll see what I can do, as there are several burning questions worth addressing …
What version of Kylian Mbappé will we see?
The French star suffered a gruesome ankle injury on July 24 in the French Cup final vs. Saint-Étienne. And no, as the clip below proves, I’m not using “gruesome” liberally.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) July 24, 2020
He left the stadium following that match on crutches, and no one seems to know for certain what shape he’ll be in Wednesday vs. Atalanta. PSG has been tight-lipped this week, at least as of 12:30 Eastern on Tuesday, so I’m totally guessing here, but I’d expect him to start.
I have no idea whether he’ll be himself though, and the most likely outcome is that he’s about 60% or 70% of the normal Mbappe. That’s more than enough to cause problems, but the significance of Mbappe being limited can’t be overstated, even if he’s one of several talented offensive pieces at Manager Thomas Tuchel’s disposal.
Has PSG finally shored up that defense?
In recent years, it’s not been the offense that has betrayed the Parisians. A year ago, they gave up three goals to ManU in leg 2 of the round of 16. In ’17-18, they were lit up for five goals over two legs by Real Madrid in the same round.
There was also the ’16-17 round of 16. In a game rarely thought about since in either Paris or Barcelona, they managed to piss away a 4-0 advantage after the first leg by traveling to Camp Nou and losing 6-1, as the Catalans scored three (!) times in the 88th minute or later.
But this year, we’ve seen a PSG squad that concedes a whole lot less. They gave up just 24 goals in 27 Ligue 1 games, and more importantly, they were stout in group play (just two goals allowed in six games).
Tuchel’s team also allowed just two goals to Borussia Dortmund over two legs in the round of 16 this year, which is the best sign we’ve sign that their back four (plus keeper Keylor Navas) can hold up their end of the bargain.
Will Atalanta keep that swagger?
I’m pretty positive I know the answer (yes) to this question, but it’s nevertheless worth asking.
The team Atalanta has been compared to most is last year’s Ajax, which bounced Real Madrid and Juventus by ruthlessly attacking them as if they were just another Eredivisie foe. Expect a similar approach from Atalanta’s deep pool of quality attacking players (three players hit the 15-goal mark in Serie A, and a ridiculous seven had at least five assists).
We’ve hinted at it elsewhere, but Atalanta has a massive advantage thanks to the relative lack of pressure on players who have spent most, if not all, of their careers in anonymity, at least compared to the likes of PSG and Man City. It also helps that almost all these guys are in their mid-20s or later, as experience typically equals less susceptibility to mental breakdowns.
How much will Atalanta miss Josip Ilicic?
Despite the depth, his expected absence (for personal reasons) is still a big blow. The Slovenian has been the face of this team this year, with 15 goals and five assists in Serie A to go with five goals in the Champions League. Of his team’s eight goals over the two-legged win over Valencia in the round of 16, he scored a whopping five of them, including all four in the 4-3 win in Leg 2.
As impressive as he is, though, I like his team’s chances of finding offense elsewhere. Going back to the success they had vs. Valencia, it’s extremely encouraging that they got goals from both Hans Hateboer and Remo Freuler. Is it just me, or can the goals literally come from anywhere? Hateboer has scored twice in the UCL, but is scoreless on the season in Serie A, while Freuler had just two goals and two assists domestically.
To conclude with a direct answer to the question, obviously they’ll miss Ilicic, but I still like them to pull this off.