Champions League preview: Atalanta vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta come into Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final matchup with question marks abounding for both sides. Some are tied to players who will not take part in the festivities, while others relate to the pressure on each side to advance into the last four of the competition.
PSG will be looking to avoid elimination after finally making it out of the Round of 16 for the first time in four years after defeating Dortmund in the previous round. However, they will be forced to do so without two - and possibly three- of their primary players. Meanwhile, Atalanta looks to build on their best-ever performance in Champions League after defeating Valencia 8-4 on aggregate in the Round of 16. To do so, they also will need to overcome the loss of one of their most important players.
Angel Di Maria will miss the match due to yellow card suspension, while integral midfielder Marco Verratti is out after suffering a calf injury in training less than a week ago. Juan Bernat and Thilo Kehrer have also been banged up, while players Edinson Cavani, Tanguy Kouassi, and Thomas Meunier have left the club due to free agency and transfer deals.
The important news for Paris is that Kylian Mbappe, their exciting young forward, rejoined training in full on Monday and Tuesday. Per reports on Tuesday afternoon that he will in fact start for PSG, he is set to make a miraculous recovery from an ankle injury suffered less than three weeks ago in the French Cup final. His presence will be a huge lift for a team that will need to deal with replacing what Di Maria brings to the side.
For Atalanta, they will be without their tall, imposing striker Josip Ilicic, who has left the club to deal with some personal issues and will not return until next season, at the earliest. They have learned to play without him, as he started only two matches after the restart and the side lost only once - in the final weekend to Inter - in their thirteen matches after resuming play.
How they match up
Atalanta is a very pressing side, and that could cause problems for a PSG side that will be missing their main man in the midfield. The Parisians have not played a league match since they were deemed champions, with their last competitive league outing being in February. Since then, they have played a few friendlies and the Coup de France final, but nothing like the style of play they will face with Atalanta. Rust will be a big concern, especially when you consider key parts of their team will be missing.
The Italian squad enter having won nine of their thirteen matches since resuming play, having scored 28 matches during that period. Their scoring has dipped of late, however, with them scoring just one goal or less in four of their last five outings. That will have to improve against PSG, who have not allowed a goal in their last three matches during their warm-up period. However, unlike PSG, they are in peak fitness, and have plenty of real-match experience under their belt.
How you should bet
PSG have the longest scoring streak in Champions League, having recorded a goal in their last 32 matches in the competition. With Mbappe back in the lineup, that streak is almost certain to continue. On the flip side, no team has conceded more goals in this year’s competition than Atalanta. As such, it is almost certain that we will see goals in this match. I like both teams to find the back of the net at least once each, and I expect there to be goals from these two attacking sides.
The concern for PSG is their fitness and sharpness. Against a team that will play the way Atalanta does, rust can be a huge factor. The Italian side has been in terrific form, and given we are not entirely sure how long Mbappe will be able to go - or just how effective he will be - the question marks surrounding PSG are too many to overlook.
While I am not sure Atalanta will be able to win in regulation, I do like their chances to go through when the final whistle sounds. Roll with the underdogs in what should be a terrific match.