Atalanta visit Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday with their qualification hopes hanging by a thread. Defeats in the opening games against Dinamo Zagreb (4-0) and Shakhtar Donetsk (2-1) have made this a must win game for Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, as they look to avoid seeing their debut season in the Champions League cut short.
Atalanta are sitting 3rd in Serie A after this weekend, and against Lazio they threw away a 3 goal lead at Lazio to draw 3-3, and these defensive frailties will excite Guardiola’s side.
Manchester City have a perfect record from their two games after a 3-0 win in Ukraine, followed by a 2-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb at the Etihad. A win would all but guarantee qualification at this early stage, however Atalanta’s domestic form has been impressive, and must approach the Italian side with caution.
City eased past Palace on Saturday, without having to get out of first gear, and look to have brushed off the defeat to Wolves prior to the international break with ease.
Gasperini’s side line up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, and will be expected to do so once again at the Etihad. The wing backs are expected to provide the width and get up and down the flanks, with Marten De Roon and Remo Freuler adding solidity in the middle, looking to cover when they press on. However, when one wing back attacks, expect to see the other tuck in rather than look to create an overload, particularly against a City side who are able to capitalise on any spaces left behind.
Up front, Atalanta’s attack has been impressive. The line is led by Colombian Duvan Zapata, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League in recent weeks, in particular with Manchester United. A player who is quick, plays off the last defender, and has a healthy habit of getting himself into the right positions, he will be a huge miss if not passed fit, as the City defence has found itself susceptible to his style of play this season. He has found the net 7 times for Atalanta this season already for Atalanta, but missed Saturday’s draw with Lazio through injury.
Replacement Luis Muriel scored twice on the weekend and is a very similar replacement, and has been clinical in front of goal this season. With five goals in six league games, his searing pace and ability to drive on the ball, coupled with Ilicic and Gomez in behind, will worry the Man City defence. It is worth noting that Muriel is overperforming his personal expected goals xG by 2.41, highlighting the form he is in. They will look to exploit the spaces left in behind by the City full backs as they press
on the try and create overloads in wide areas. When playing against Wolves (who also play with 3 at the back), the average position of the full backs was extremely high as they dominated possession throughout. This will be an area which Atalanta look to target, and possess the players to do so.
Manchester City will look to press Atalanta high when the game is level, however in Marten De Roon they have one of the best players in Europe statistically at playing through the press. This could be key to exposing the City backline, however if he is to be caught out, Atalanta will struggle to get a foothold in the game. It does make Atalanta an exciting proposition on the counter attack, and has been key to their success this season and last.
Atalanta themselves often employ a high press in domestic games, and was best showcased in their victory over lowly Lecce, where their first goal led from an effective press leading to a mistake. City did show their vulnerability at the back to individual errors at times against Crystal Palace on Saturday, and this could be an area they look to get at. Bernard Mendy in particular struggled at times on the ball, and could be targeted by the press if he starts. However, given Guardiola’s rotation, Zinchenko could start.
Manchester City have less of an aerial threat to worry about, and although Muriel will threaten in behind, will be better suited to deal with the tricky front three than the physical Premier League. Despite this, one other area where Atalanta could threaten City’s defence is off set pieces, with towering defenders Simon Kjaer and Jose Luis Palomino threatening from the backline.
Manchester City looked back to their best in victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday, with goals from Gabriel Jesus and David Silva giving them a 2-0 win. Their dominance was highlighted by the xG of the game, with a 4.02 to Palace’s 0.62 suggesting the score line should’ve been even further apart.
City were patient throughout the first half against a defensive Palace side, and Guardiola sprung a surprise with Fernandinho and Rodri lining up as centre halves. This was to help with threat of Ayew and Zaha’s pace and dealt expertly, and look to utilise high amount of possession (Rodri completed 100 passes). However, John Stones may return from injury against Atalanta, and coming up against the pacey front three, could be left vulnerable, and is definitely an area to keep an eye on.
Man City were defeated by Wolves when they went 3 at the back, but they were very wasteful. The movement of Aguero or Jesus will cause a lot of problems for Kjaer in particular in the central areas, and could force Atalanta to sit deeper. If they choose to press and condense the play, Man City will look to get in behind him and could lead to Raheem Sterling being utilised over the top.
There are also opportunities to create overloads out wide with high full backs, as Atalanta look to play particularly narrow. By pushing the full backs high, it will allow City’s wingers to drift inside and occupy the centre halves and midfielders. The sheer volume of gifted players City have in an attacking sense make them a nightmare to defend against, and the returning Kevin De Bruyne will relish the potential space he could be afforded in front of the back three. With expected assists return of 0.83 per 90 minutes, he is in fine form, and given the time and space, will break down the Atalanta defence.
If City are to score early, Atalanta will be forced to come out and chase the game, and as a result this could see City pick them off, particularly through De Bruyne’s ability to lead counter attacks. The counter attacking ability of City was showcased in devastating fashion for their second goal against Palace, and if Atalanta are to come out and chase the game, it could lead to City picking them off and racking up the goals.
Approaching the betting markets, it is immediately goals that stand out in this game. Priced at 3/10, it is hard to get behind Over 2.5 goals but. The underlying statistics domestically, plus the defensive vulnerabilities of both sides, point that it should be an open game. When also factoring in the context of the group, Atalanta will have nothing to lose even if a number of goals down, so will be willing to commit men forward if they are to go behind, rather than look for damage limitation. The front three of Atalanta should give City enough worries, but City should still have enough attacking force to break down the defence. As a result, in search for more value, it is Manchester City and both teams to score at 11/8 (Betfred) that appeals.
Looking at goal scorers, it is hard to find any value in City’s attacking front three, with all at odds on. With an xG of 0.61 per 90 minutes in the league, Bernardo Silva represents the best value from City at 2/1, and with the high full backs occupying the wing backs for Atalanta, he will look to drift inside and look for pockets in between the defence and midfield. Averaging 3.9 shots per 90 minutes, he isn’t afraid to have a go, and as a result represents the best value aside from the front 3.