Atalanta will be hoping to build on their impressive victory in the Champions League from last week as they get ready to host Ajax.
The second gameweek of the UEFA Champions League group stages will be underway tomorrow with thrilling games such as Barcelona vs Juventus, Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Real Madrid and Manchester United vs RB Leipzig among others to keep an eye on. However, another matchup that will be just as enticing is when Ajax travel to Italy to face off against Atalanta.
Atalanta became the only other side other than Newcastle United to qualify for the next round despite losing their opening two fixtures. They topped this miracle off by reaching the Quarterfinals of the competition, where they lost out to eventual finalists Paris Saint Germain in the last minute of the game.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have made a rocky start to their Serie A life, winning three games and losing two. However, they have started life in the 2020/21 Champions League in perfect fashion as they hit four unanswered goals past FC Midtjylland courtesy of a-goal-a-piece from Duvan Zapata, Alejandro Gomez, Luis Muriel, and new signing Aleksey Mirachuk.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) October 26, 2020
Ajax, on the other hand, did not capture the three points they craved for as they hosted the English Champions Liverpool at the Johann Cruyff stadium. The Amsterdam outfit dropped a playmaking masterclass, making multiple chances in attack, but were unable to finish any thanks to Fabinho, who put on a monstrous performance in the absence of Virgil van Dijk.
Team News & Tactics
Gian Piero Gasperini will be without three of his first-team players ahead of the big game against Ajax Amsterdam. These come in the form of centre-back Mattia Caldara, third-choice goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi and defensive midfielder Marten de Roon.
— Atalanta B.C. (@Atalanta_BC) October 26, 2020
First choice goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini has returned to the matchday squad after returning from injury. Still, Gasperini might want to stick to Marco Sportiello, who has already started six games in all competitions. The Italian has displayed impressive reflexes and reading of the game but has only been able to keep one clean sheet so far.
Ahead of him, brilliant ball-playing defender Rafael Toloi will start in his usual position on the right of the back-three. Berat Djimsiti will take up the slot on the opposite side on the left, while Jose Luis Palomino marshals the defence yet again. Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens are expected to start on either side of the midfield as the wingbacks.
De Roon was subbed off due to an injury scare on the weekend against Sampdoria and will be missing in the heart of the midfield tomorrow, but Ruslan Malinovyski will replace him in the position hoping to let loose one of his trademark long-range shots. Remo Freuler, who was rested against Sampdoria, will come in to take his place alongside the Ukrainian.
Gasperini has a plethora of attackers to choose from ahead of this game, but one name that we will see regardless of the opponent is captain Alejandro Gomez in the hole behind the mainstay Davin Zapata. Josip Ilicic had a solid game on the weekend and will retain his place as the twin striker in the attack.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Sportiello; Toloi, Palomino, Djimsiti; Hateboer, Mlinovyski, Freuler, Gosens; Gomez; Ilicic, Zapata
There are less pressing squad concerns for Ajax than for Atalanta for this tie, but Erik ten Hag will have to find unorthodox solutions for the missing piece in his team. In-form attacking midfielder Mohammed Kudus picked up an injury against Liverpool and is expected to be out for a long time.
Ajax are coming to this game on the back of an insane 13-0 victory against VVV-Venlo, where Lassina Traore bagged five goals and three assists. If that is not enough to warrant him a place in the starting lineup tomorrow, nothing will be.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) October 26, 2020
He will be playing off of Dusan Tadic, who is expected to start in the attacking midfield role in the 4-2-3-1, while Quincy Promes comes in to take up the slot on the left flank. Anthony Santos, who has registered four goals and two assists already in the Eredivisie this season, will undoubtedly retain his spot on the right.
Davy Klaassen has made an impressive return to the Netherlands at Ajax and will be seen starting as part of the double pivot, while Ryan Gravenberch partners him in the centre of the park.
Nicolas Tagliafico only played the first half on the weekend, and the rest will allow him to complete match sharpness as he starts in the left-back role. Similarly, Noussair Mazraoui was rested against Venlo and will return to the lineup at right-back. They will be flanking Daley Blind and Perr Schuurs in the heart of the defence. Andre Onana will be the final piece of this puzzle, starting between the posts.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Onana; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico; Klaassen, Gravenberch; Santos, Tadic, Promes, Traore
- Atalanta has only failed to score in only one of their last 14 home games.
- ‘La Dea’ also produced at least 3.5 goals in their last 6 competitive games this season. Also, they have seen five of these games end with both teams scoring at least a goal [W4, L2].
- Ajax are unbeaten in their last six UCL away games [W3, D3]. Also, the Dutch-side have seen both teams score a goal in five of these six away games.
- Duvan Zapata has scored in four of his last six appearances; two of his last were first-half openers.
- Lassina Traore is the first player to score five goals for Ajax in a league game since Marvo Van Basten in 1985.
Player to Watch
Alejandro Gomez has been Serie A’s standout player for two seasons in a row now, and Atalanta’s marquee player for more than five seasons, ending each season with goals + assists in double digits. On a personal level, the last season was his second-best ever, as he registered seven goals and 16 assists, emerging as one of the top 5 league’s best creators.
The Argentine has already started this season in incredible fashion, with four goals and two assists in five games in the league, while also getting off the mark in the Champions League. He will be vital on Tuesday as well, operating in the hole behind Ajax’s tireless midfield.
However, that is precisely where Ajax is most vulnerable, as they attack in numbers, leaving Gravenberch and the defence exposed. Gomez is most threatening when he is given space to operate, and we might see the best version of the 31-year-old tomorrow at the biggest stage of all.
Atalanta 3-2 Ajax
Ajax are too vulnerable on the counter, primarily through the wings; exactly where Atalanta function best. As for the hosts’ defence, it is relatively easy to expose them by making runs into the channels between the centre-backs – none of whom boast strong man-marking skills. Traore will hope that Tadic can pick him up when he makes these runs.
Predicting a high-scoring 3-2 tie might seem romantic, but that is exactly what these two sides bring to the table whenever they play – a plethora of attacking talent and 90 minutes of thrilling counter attacks.