Valencia will be looking to mount an unlikely comeback when they host Serie A outfit Atalanta in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

The second leg fixtures of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 phase get underway on Tuesday night. And La Liga heavyweights Valencia will have a gargantuan task at hand when they welcome Atalanta to the Mestalla, as they look to turn over a three-goal deficit from the first leg.

The reverse fixture played in Italy last month saw Valencia get trounced 4-1 by Atalanta, leaving them staring at an exit from the competition. Since that heavy defeat, Los Che haven’t been able to hit form and come into the crunch clash on the back of a 1-1 draw against Alaves. Manager Albert Celades, though, will be hoping that his side produce the unlikeliest of comebacks and make it through to the next round.

Atalanta are looking to make history, with one foot already in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on their first-ever participation in the tournament. La Dea have played just once since beating Valencia, as matches have been postponed in Serie A due to the Coronavirus threat. In their only match, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men thrashed Lecce 7-2 and will be looking to carry that form forward on Tuesday.

Ahead of this exciting match-up coming our way from the Mestalla, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Valencia

Valencia have a few key players missing for the game against Atalanta on Tuesday night. Star striker Maxi Gomez is ruled out with an injury, along with defenders Eliaquim Mangala, Cristiano Piccini and Ezequiel Garay. Gabriel Paulista missed the first leg due to suspension, but is available for this tie. However, he has been left out of the squad announced by the manager.

Celades switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation last time out against Alaves, but is expected to revert to his preferred 4-4-2 setup when Atalanta come visiting. Former Barcelona superstar Jasper Cillessen is a guaranteed starter in goal ahead of Jaume Domenech, while Daniel Wass and Jose Gaya will occupy the full-back slots on the right and left sides respectively.

Given the shortage of options at his disposal in the centre-back department, Celades is likely to hand 19-year-old defender Hugo Guillamon his Champions League debut on Tuesday. The youngster, who has featured just once for the senior team this season, will partner Mouctar Diakhaby and look to keep the Atalanta attack at bay.

Geoffrey Kondogbia and captain Dani Parejo are likely to occupy the central midfield area for Valencia and look to supplement their teammates in attack. The threat from wide areas should come from Carlos Soler and Ferran Torres, who will be key in creating chances for the hosts. Denis Cheryshev, who scored the only goal for Valencia, in the first leg is also an option.

The two-pronged strikeforce for Valencia ought to comprise of Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno, who will need to step up in a big way if Los Che are to stand any chance of pulling off a comeback.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Cillessen; Wass, Guillamon, Diakhaby, Gaya; Torres, Parejo, Kondogbia, Soler; Gameiro, Rodrigo

Atalanta

Berat Djimsiti missed the last game against Lecce, but is expected to be fit and available for the contest against Valencia. His partner Rafael Toloi also did not feature last time out and question marks persist over his availability. January signing Bosko Sutalo hasn’t been registered and hence is ineligible to play.

Gian Piero Gasperini is expected to stick by his tried and trusted 3-4-1-2 setup with Italian international Pierluigi Gollini starting in goal. The returning Djimsiti is likely to start in the three-man backline along with Mattia Caldara and Jose Luis Palomino.

Hans Hateboer, who scored two goals in the first leg in Italy, is a shoo-in at right wing-back, while the opposite flank is likely to be taken up by Robin Gosens. Marten de Roon, who started in defence last time out, is expected to return to his natural habitat in central midfield. Partnering him ought to be Remo Freuler, with Mario Pasalic dropping to the bench.

Captain Alejandro Gomez will take up the No. 10 slot for Atalanta and look to create openings for the strike partnership of Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic, with Luis Muriel providing an option from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Gollini; Djimsiti, Caldara, Palomino; Hateboer, de Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Gomez; Ilicic, Zapata

Key Stats

  • Valencia have never faced Atalanta at home in a European match previously – they lost their last home Champions League match against Italian opponents, in September 2018 against Juventus (0-2).
  • Should they reach the quarter-finals, Atalanta would become the first Champions League debutant to reach that stage since Leicester City in 2016-17 and the first Italian side to do so since Lazio in the 1999-00 campaign.
  • Only four of the previous 36 teams to lose the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie by three or more goals have then progressed, though two have been Spanish teams – Deportivo de La Coruaa in 2003-04 vs AC Milan and Barcelona in 2016-17 vs PSG.
  • In the first leg, Atalanta became only the third team to score four goals in their first ever Champions League knockout match, after Manchester United (4-0 vs FC Porto in 1996-97) and opponents Valencia (5-2 v Lazio in 1999-00).
  • Valencia are winless in nine Champions League knockout stage matches (D5 L4) and haven’t scored three goals in a knockout game since winning 3-0 against Leeds United in May 2001.

Player to Watch

Rodrigo

Rodrigo needs to start delivering the goods (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Rodrigo needs to start delivering the goods (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

The 29-year-old has had a disappointing campaign till date compared to the standards he set for himself last season. So far in 2019-20, Rodrigo has managed just five goals in 27 matches across all competitions, with two of them coming in the Champions League.

Valencia have a huge task at hand on Tuesday night, needing at least three goals to stand a chance to qualify to the next round. And with leading goalscorer Maxi Gomez ruled out of the contest, Los Che will need Rodrigo to fire on all cylinders if they are to scale a comeback.

Prediction

Valencia 1-3 Atalanta

Atalanta absolutely dismantled Valencia in the first leg and followed it up with another huge victory against Lecce in Serie A. Having not played since March 1, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side will be well-rested coming into Tuesday’s clash at the Mestalla and will be in confident mood.

Valencia have won just of one of their last seven matches in all competitions and the task of overturning a three-goal deficit is likely to be a step too far for Albert Celades & co., more so considering that they will be without chief goal-scoring threat Maxi Gomez.

Moreover, with options in the centre-back department depleted, Los Che will find it hard to stem the flow of the Atalanta attack that has been firing on all cylinders this term. Hence, The Hard Tackle predicts another commanding win for the Serie A giants on the way to their first-ever UEFA Champions League quarter-final appearance.

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