The purpose of these match-up previews is typically to break down who we think will advance and who oddsmakers think will advance. Then, when there’s a gap between our own expectations and those of the oddsmakers, we do our best to figure out why.
But in the case of Valencia-Atalanta on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern, it’s pretty simple: oddsmakers have Atalanta at -2,500 to go through, while Valencia is a massive underdog at +1,000. It makes perfect sense considering Atalanta’s dominance in leg 1. They won 4-1 at home in a game that wasn’t even that close. And with that, we’ve probably already said more than necessary about why Atalanta is the second-biggest favorite to go through to the quarters behind only Bayern Munich.
What we really want to talk about here is whether Atalanta can advance beyond the quarters. Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.
Leg 2 of this match-up is at Valencia, where Los Che play well, but that’s about the only positive I can think of for the La Liga side. They’re in seventh place in Spain and currently appear unlikely – they’re four points behind fourth-place Getafe 😍– to qualify for next year’s UCL.
A CLOSER LOOK AT ATALANTA
Back to Atalanta, a team we got to know a bit in our preview of Leg 1. At the time of that article, there was reason to believe we might be talking about this year’s Ajax, and that hasn’t changed in the last week-plus.
At that point, they had scored 63 goals in 24 Serie A matches, which was absurd, regardless of the league you’re in. Due to the coronavirus, they’ve only played one game since, but they scored seven (!) times in that one, beating Lecce 7-2 on March 1. Let’s not forget they beat the winner of Group H 4-1 in leg 1 of the UCL.
Atalanta now has 70 goals in 25 domestic matches, which puts them insanely close to the 3-goals-per-game mark. Even Bayern Munich thinks that’s pretty damn prolific.
One last note before we get into the advanced metrics on this team’s offense: they’ve now scored seven goals on a Serie A foe twice in the last six weeks – they beat Torino 7-0 on January 25 before the romp over Lecce. Most teams don’t record two such victories in a decade*, much less a little over a month.
*Totally guessing on that
There have been plenty of other examples of their offensive prowess, but at this point, you get it: these guys score a lot.
WHAT DO THE ADVANCED METRICS SAY??
As we know, goals can be fluky, which is why stats like xG exist. If you’re scoring a whole lot more than your xG, it’s probably a matter of time before you come back down to earth. However, it’s also possible that you’re simply reaping the benefits of having superior forwards.
At the moment, Atalanta’s xG in Serie A is 63.29 (2.53 xG per game, compared to 2.8 goals scored per game), meaning they’ve outperformed expectations by just over a goal every four games.
The question: should that make us more bullish, or less bullish, about this team’s chances to reach the semis – or beyond?
IN GOOD COMPANY
That’s a great question, but the glass-half-full observer would point out that the first-place teams in the EPL (Liverpool), Bundesliga (Bayern Munich), Serie A (Juventus) and Spain (Barcelona) all outperform xG.
Liverpool and Barcelona, in particular, both exceed their expected goals by a significant margin — Liverpool by just over 5 (66 goals to 60.96 xG), and Barcelona by over 11 (63 goals to 51.69 xG).
What do all five of these teams have in common? Among other things, the answer is players who finish their opportunities.
As for FiveThirtyEight, the analytics site gives this team a 4% chance (7th-best of the 16 teams remaining) of winning the Champions League. That is, for the record, a better shot than the likes of Borussia Dortmund (3%), Juventus (3%), Atleti (2%) and Real Madrid (2%).
Atalanta also boasts a notable 35% chance to make the semis. And I say “notable” because the site says Liverpool has a 31% chance to reach that stage, and it gives PSG a 26% chance to be a semifinalist.
Oddsmakers, however, currently give Atalanta the 10th-best futures odds (+3,000) to win the tournament. While it’s hard to imagine them pulling that off, I’m not judging anyone who feels tempted by that kind of a payout, especially considering two of the pre-round of 16 favorites (Liverpool and PSG are both down after leg 1) could very well fail to reach the quarters.
Regardless of how you feel about putting money on Atalanta, however, you should absolutely have your eye on them, no matter who they draw in the quarters.