The UEFA Champions League first knockout round resumed last night with two games, Atalanta vs Valencia, and Tottenham vs RB Leipzig.
While the first game in question saw a brilliant attacking display by Atalanta, making Milano’s San Siro their home, the second fixture at London was a hard-fought and low-scoring battle, from which the visiting Leipzig emerged victorious. Serie A surprise inclusion to UCL top 16 Atalanta decided to move their Champions League games from their usual home ground in Bergamo to San Siro in Milano. The capacity of the legendary stadium is around 80k while the Bergamo’s Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia only accommodates 27k spectators and Atalanta wanted to ensure that every sigle one of their faithful fan base had a chance to see them in action. Coming from one of the smallest cities in Serie A, Bergamo only has some 120k inhabitants, Atalanta’s surge to the top of Italian football has been nothing but spectacular.
Atalanta has taken Serie A by storm, breaking the tradition of defense first by always going on the field to outscore their opponents. This was felt by Valencia in the Champions League 1st knockout round game as well: Atalanta banged in four goals until Valencia could answer with a single. While playing fast and loose in the offensive end, Atalanta’s defense makes it hard for the opponents to break it down. Sticking to their positions and making the ball do the hard work, Atalanta is rarely caught out of possession and the team works admirably as a unit defensively. Despite taking a 2-0 lead with three efforts on goal, Atalanta allowed no shots on goal and gave Valencia the possession for 53% of the first half.
After making the lead four goals in the second half, Atalanta somewhat pulled back and Valencia got into the game by consolidation goal by Denis Cheryshev. The away goal gave Valencia a short lifeline heading to their home game, where they need to win by score line of 3-0 or better.
At Spurs home stadium in London, things were much quieter. The home side Tottenham are riddled with injuries especially on the offense and they had to go without their two most prolific scorers Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. The visiting RB Leipzig took the initiative and were the more active side to start the game, but Hugo Lloris between the pipes was well worth his paycheck, making three saves in the first half. Physical and hard-tackling sides fought at even keel up until 58th minute. Spurs defender Ben Davies’reckless tackle inside the box resulted in a penalty kick, which Leipzig’s no. 1 scorer Timo Werner slotted past Lloris, who was near there but not quite.
After going 0-1 down Spurs pushed up but couldn’t convert their handful of chances. Heading to the second leg in Leipzig, there’s plenty to play for as the visiting Spurs now have to win while a draw will do for the hosts.