The Atalanta fairy-tale continues with a stunning 4-1 victory over Valencia, but the away goal leaves some concerns for the Champions League Round of 16 second leg.
This first leg was an historic occasion, because in their debut Champions League season, La Dea had reached the knockouts and 44,236 travelled from Bergamo – approximately one in three citizens – to attend the game at San Siro.
Gian Piero Gasperini opted to bench Duvan Zapata for the versatile trident with Mario Pasalic, Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic. Berat Djimsiti picked up an injury in the warm-up, making way for January signing Mattia Caldara. Valencia made the trip without suspended Gabriel Paulista, ill Alessandro Florenzi, injured Francis Coquelin, Kang-in Lee, Rodrigo, Ezequiel Garay, Cristiano Piccini and Manu Vallejo, with Kevin Gameiro, Denis Cheryshev and goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen not fully fit.
Papu Gomez earned a free kick on the edge of the box when tripped by Dani Parejo, then fired it over the bar. Pasalic was sent completely clear on goal by Ilicic on seven minutes, but he made his intention too obvious and Jaume Domenech was able to make an astonishing one-handed save one-on-one.
Atalanta did take the lead on 16 minutes when Gomez dribbled into the area down the left and bent a perfect ball across the six-yard line for Hans Hateboer to come sliding in at the back post. That means they have scored nine Champions League goals with eight different players.
Robin Gosens hit the side-netting from a promising move, but there was a huge scare on the half-hour mark, as a Valencia free kick was taken quickly, allowing Ferran Torres to smash his effort on to the upright. A mad scramble then followed, with Atalanta somehow getting it clear.
Goncalo Guedes then saw his cross-shot skim both the far post and Eliaquim Mangala sliding in, while Marten de Roon blasted over on the half-volley.
Ilicic had not yet scored in the Champions League this season, but he broke that drought with an absolute scorcher into the far top corner from just inside the area. He held off three defenders and then smashed it in with his weaker right foot.
Atalanta started the second half with even more confidence, a deflected Gomez cross looped up to fly just past Hateboer. At the other end, Soler turned wide from six yards under pressure.
It was another simply magnificent moment of individual brilliance for Atalanta to go 3-0 up. Remo Freuler gathered on the edge of the box and placed a remote-controlled right-foot curler into the far top corner, giving Domenech no chance. He was the ninth different player to score in the Champions League for Atalanta, more than any other club in the tournament this season.
Valencia failed to make the most of a horrible defensive error, as Maxi Gomez somehow swept the ball straight at back-pedalling Pierluigi Gollini from six yards.
Moments later, Atalanta made it 4-0. Hateboer sprung the offside trap practically from the centre-circle and sprinted forward down the right to fire in a precise angled drive.
However, La Dea seemed to relax into their lead and were caught out by substitute Denis Cheryshev. He scored within two minutes of stepping off the bench, as Jose Luis Palomino’s wayward pass turned into an assist and his daisy-cutter flew into the far bottom corner.
This sparked a comeback from Valencia, as another error almost gave Cheryshev his second moments later, but Gollini bravely rushed out and charged it down with his body.
Gasperini had already lost Djimsiti in the warm-up, so replaced Mattia Caldara with Duvan Zapata, moving De Roon into defence. Ruslan Malinovskyi also came on and ballooned into the stands from a promising position, then Duvan Zapata hesitated when sent clear on the counter.
Atalanta 4-1 Valencia
Hateboer 16, 62 (A), Ilicic 42 (A), Freuler 57 (A), Cheryshev 66 (V)
Atalanta: Gollini; Toloi, Caldara (Duvan Zapata 75), Palomino; Hateboer, De Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Pasalic (Tameze 91); Ilicic, A Gomez (Malinovskyi 80)
Valencia: Domenech; Wass, Diakhaby, Mangala, Gayà; Ferran Torres, Parejo, Kondogbia, Soler; Maxi Gomez (Gameiro 73), Goncalo Guedes (Cheryshev 64)
Ref: Oliver (ENG)
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