Preview: RB Leipzig vs. Atalanta BC

Preview: RB Leipzig vs. Atalanta BC

As the Europa League reaches its quarter-final stage, RB Leipzig battle it out with Atalanta BC for a place in the final four over the course of the next week.

Ahead of Thursday’s first leg in Germany, the Bundesliga club enjoyed one of their best wins of the season, while their visitors continued to stumble in Serie A – in stark contrast to impressive European form.

Since finishing third in Champions League Group A last autumn, behind heavyweight contenders Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, much has changed at RB Leipzig, who have enjoyed an upturn in fortunes under new coach Domenico Tedesco.

The former Schalke boss took the hotseat towards the tail end of that ultimately unsuccessful campaign in Europe’s elite competition, and Die Roten Bullen have been on an upward trajectory since.

Not only have they inched up the Bundesliga standings to occupy fourth spot – with a three-point buffer to fifth-placed Freiburg – the Saxony side overcame Real Sociedad in the Europa League playoffs back in February, when a 3-1 away win in San Sebastian helped seal a 5-3 aggregate victory.

Having then received a bye against disqualified Russian club Spartak Moscow in the last 16, Leipzig’s second participation in the knockout phase now continues into the last eight.

As newcomers to the continental stage, they lost out in their one previous quarter-final appearance – to Marseille in 2018 – before exiting in the semi-finals of the Champions League two years later, at the hands of PSG.

More recently, Leipzig have won just one of their last five European home matches – a dead rubber against Manchester City earlier this season – and have been held to successive draws in the Bundesliga at Red Bull Arena, against Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ahead of Atalanta’s arrival on Thursday, Tedesco and co will hope to replicate their last two away displays instead: a 6-1 destruction of rock-bottom Greuther Furth, followed by Saturday’s clinical 4-1 win over Borussia Dortmund.

Despite elimination from the Champions League group stage late last year, Atalanta have continued to impress in continental football in 2022; putting their domestic woes to one side under the bright lights of midweek nights.

A recent downturn in Serie A sees Gian Piero Gasperini’s side facing an almighty scrap to secure their return to the Champions League through a top four finish, and they sit seventh in the standings following a 3-1 defeat at Napoli on Sunday – now eight points adrift of fourth-placed Juventus, with a game still in hand.

The Bergamaschi return to continental action with everything still to play for, though, after they took apart Greek champions Olympiacos 5-1 on aggregate in February’s playoff round, and then posted their second European away win in a row when Jeremie Boga struck a late winner in Leverkusen last month to secure a quarter-final spot.

Indeed, the winger’s was the 11th goal struck by Atalanta in their five away games in Europe this season, and a 4-2 success over two legs against one of Germany’s top teams highlights how fluent they have been in the final third when taking on their continental counterparts.

Goals have dried up in Serie A since top scorer Duvan Zapata’s disappearance several weeks ago, with the Colombian striker’s absence through injury posing a problem for Gasperini to resolve – his side lacking an obvious focal point for all their intricate build-up.

As they prepare for the club’s first appearance in the Europa League last eight – their only previous involvement in the competition’s knockout phase having been immediately ended by Dortmund four years ago – Atalanta’s last success in a European quarter-final came against Sporting back in the 1987-88 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Since then, defeats at the same stage against fellow Lombardy club Inter in the 1990-91 UEFA Cup and to PSG two seasons ago have cut short La Dea’s quest for a first continental crown, but they are now just two ties away from Seville, where the final will be held in May.

RB Leipzig Europa League form:
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RB Leipzig form (all competitions):
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Atalanta BC Europa League form:
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Atalanta BC form (all competitions):
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We say: RB Leipzig 1-1 Atalanta BC
While Leipzig have accumulated 26 Bundesliga points since the turn of the year – more than any other team in the division – Atalanta have managed only three wins during their last 13 league matches.

The Bergamo club have struggled to score with their previous ease, but with 18 different players having found the net for them in Serie A this season they can still spring a surprise – particularly being more comfortable on away soil than at home.

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