2.5pts Atalanta or Draw and Under 3.5 Goals at 23/20 (bet365)
1pt Atalanta to win at 13/10 (General)
Atalanta v Real Madrid
In my Last 16 preview, I flagged Atalanta as a value bet to progress through this tie, citing the match up as “the up and coming, ambitious youngster taking on the experienced, been there and done it, elder statesman.”
Atalanta are the up-and-comers, and the Italians made it further in last season’s Champions League than Real Madrid – the club that have won the competition a record 13 times, but that has exited at this stage the last two seasons.
The Italians were narrowly edged out in the quarter finals last season by eventual runners-up PSG, with the French side scoring twice in the last five minutes, but that run, and the way in which they finished last season’s Serie A, highlighted the progress that is being made by the minnows from Bergamo.
Led by Gian Piero Gasperini, they are a joy to watch, playing some sensational attacking football week in and week out, but when qualifying behind Liverpool in Group D, they showed us that they could play in a different manner.
Their first three games were vintage Atalanta, with all matches seeing over 3.5 goals. When they needed to get results though, La Dea tightened up defensively and won their crucial away games in Liverpool and Amsterdam without conceding.
Atalanta’s final three group games saw a combined five goals, and defensively they allowed just 1.79 expected goals against – an average of just 0.60 per game.
That is a small sample size, but I feel as though it was a deliberate change that was made to make them more efficient and be more controlled in bigger games, which this obviously is.
In last season’s competition, their first taste of Champions League football in the club’s history, they were a bit naïve in defence which meant their attack had to play at full tilt for 90 minutes.
Being more controlled in their matches is one way they can improve, and we have seen them air on the side of caution domestically this season as well as on the continent.
When playing against Serie A’s best, they have been very solid, holding Inter Milan and Juventus to 1-1 draws, while keeping a clean sheet against AC Milan, suggesting that they are capable of playing in a reserved manner to benefit the team.
Real Madrid pose a similar test, a solid defensive side who have the potential to hurt them on the counter attack, so I expect Atalanta to play in that reserved manner here, rather than trying to out-score their opponents.
Zinedine Zidane’s La Liga champions have hit form in recent weeks, winning four straight while conceding just one goal.
Last season’s domestic title was won thanks to a solid defence, and it appears they are regaining that stout defensive backline, even in the absence of captain Sergio Ramos and right back Dani Carvajal.
With a make-shift defence, and up against a much better attack than faced in recent weeks, I expect Madrid to place the onus on defending, especially as they are set to be without their best attacking players along with Ramos and Carvajal for this game.
Karim Benzema, who is their main attacking threat, is set to miss out, while Eden Hazard is touch and go. If both are missing, it is hard to see how Madrid cause issues against a more astute Atalanta defence.
They had real problems in their Champions League group too, especially away from home, winning just once while really struggling against Shakhtar (2-0) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (2-2).
I think Atalanta should be favourites to win the first leg. An undermanned Real Madrid side are not the team of yesteryear, while Atalanta are only getting better under Gasperini.
Spanish sides didn’t have the best week last week, and I think that trend will continue here, with ATALANTA TO WIN being my smaller stake bet in this game at a very decent price.
In contrast to the market, I am preferring the look of the unders in this match, given the expected Real Madrid defensive set-up and Atalanta’s more cautious approach.
Under 2.5 goals at 5/4 did interest me, but I have gone into the bet365 bet-builder and found a 2.5pt bet I really like.
ATALANTA OR DRAW and UNDER 3.5 GOALS is priced at 23/20, which I think is a very sensible play. We get Atalanta and the draw onside for extra security, and the price is boosted by the under 3.5, which I think is very likely given everything discussed.
Score Prediction: Atalanta 2-1 Real Madrid (Sky Bet odds 9/1)
Odds correct at 1430 GMT (22/02/21)
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