Atalanta vs Bayer Leverkusen
Underperforming Serie A outfit Atalanta and Bundesliga high-flyers Bayer Leverkusen will square off at the Gewiss Stadium in the first leg of their enthralling UEFA Europa League last-16 tie.
Even though Atalanta are not having the best of times in Serie A, they ousted Greek powerhouse Olympiacos in the previous Europa League knock-out round, courtesy of an overwhelming 5-1 aggregate success. After bowing out of the Champions League group stages for the first time in three seasons, ‘La Dea’ could make it to the Europa League quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s history. And while Gian Piero Gasperini’s men maintained their unbeaten home record in the UEFA Cup/Europa League (W7, D6) with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Olympiacos last time out, their recent European form in Bergamo spells trouble. The Italians have racked up just two wins from their previous eight continental fixtures at home (D3, L3) and are without a clean sheet in their last three such contests.
In the meantime, Bayer Leverkusen sailed to a top-place finish in Europa League Group G with a game to spare, going unbeaten in their opening five group games (W4, D1) before ceding that undefeated record with a Matchday 6 reverse at Ferencvaros. Coming into this encounter, ‘Die Werkself’ held perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich to a 1-1 draw, further lifting the spirits in the dressing room. But Leverkusen’s underwhelming overall record against Italian opponents in European football could douse that optimism (W5, D5, L11), including four consecutive defeats in such match-ups. Topically, they have registered just a single triumph across their ten previous visits to the country (D3, L6). Leverkusen’s away record in the Europa League knock-out phase remains perfectly balanced (W4, D1, L4), while they delivered a mixed bag of performances on the road in this season’s group stage (W1, D1, L1).