After crashing out of the UEFA Champions League, Borussia Dortmund gets a second chance at European glory in the UEFA Europa League round of 32. The first opponent for Dortmund is Italian club Atalanta BC, currently occupying 8th place in the Italian Serie A.
Atalanta advanced to the knockout round following a first-place finish in Group E of the UEL, beating out Lyon, Everton, and Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) for the top spot. Dortmund and Atalanta met in a preseason friendly in Austria last summer, with the Italian club claiming a 1-0 victory.
What to Watch for - Attacking through the wings
Most of Atalanta’s offense runs through its wings. The play enters the middle in the offensive third of the field, where playmakers use their speed and scrappy style to put the ball into the box.
Atalanta plays a 3-5-2 variation with a staggered attacking look. With two strikers employed up front, Atalanta’s midfielders control a majority of the playmaking. Dortmund should look to stymie the Atalanta midfield by using its full backs and defensive midfielders more aggressively. By attacking the ball, Dortmund will force Atalanta to develop its play much quicker and push them through the middle of the field.
Key to the Game - Aerial balls over the top
Atalanta has had trouble defending crosses or lofted balls over the top of the defense this season. In their match against bottom-dweller Crotone over the weekend, the one goal Atalanta conceded was via a lofted cross from the corner of the box. The defense was extremely disorganized throughout the entire play, and Crotone’s aggressiveness at winning the aerial battle paid dividends.
Dortmund should try to utilize its speed and physicality by playing in balls over the top. Players like Michy Batshuayi and Marco Reus should look to push harder forward while Christian Pulisic among Dortmund’s other creators swing in crosses.
Player to Watch - Josip Ilicic
Playing just in behind the strikers, Ilicic is a threat not only as a playmaker but as a scorer. His speed and creativity makes him one of Europe’s most underrated midfielders. Ilicic has had success in European competition throughout his career. His position on the field gives him the ability to run between the two center-backs for Dortmund, making him an asset in this match-up.
Goalkeeper: Etrit Berisha
Defenders: Rafael Toloi, Jose Luis Palomino, Andrea Masiello
Midfielders: Bryan Cristante, Leonardo Spinazzola, Hans Hateboer, Marten de Roon; Josip Ilicic
Strikers: Andreas Cornelius, Remo Freuler
Prediction - Dortmund wins on aggregate, 3-2
While it might be tough for Dortmund on the road, the home leg should see BVB take a victory and advance to the Round of 16. Expect a big two games from Batshuayi, who is looking to prove his case for World Cup selection later this year.