22 min: Such an odd game, though. Atalanta continue to dominate, and they’re winning all those headers in the PSG box. But Neymar has found himself in two extremely promising situations, and should have scored at least one, probably two. A goalfest may break out shortly.
20 min: Another free kick for Atalanta out on the left. When it’s swung in, Pasalic wins the header but it’s an easy pick for Navas. Atalanta have won just about every header in the PSG box! The French champions can’t keep letting them do this.
19 min: Now Neymar skitters down the left, Atalanta’s defence having disappeared into the ether. Neymar enters the box and considers shooting, but tries to find Icardi in the middle instead. His ball is neither one thing nor the other, and it trundles away from danger harmlessly.
18 min: PSG don’t look comfortable with the Atalanta press. They ship possession in their own half, and the Italians draw some pretty triangles. Gomez nearly breaks clear down the right but Bernat does well to close him down.
16 min: Having been under the cosh a little, PSG take the sting out of the game with some sterile possession. It’s much required. The rank weirdness of that Neymar miss aside, Atalanta have been the better side in these opening exchanges.
14 min: Gosens embarks on a dribble down the left and is stopped by Kehrer in the ungainly style. A free kick and a chance to cause more mayhem in the PSG box. It’s swung into the mixer, and Djimsiti eyebrows a header well wide left. PSG need to start winning some of these headers. It’s a confident start by the Italians.
12 min: A corner on the right leads to another on the left. From that second one, Caldara attempts to guide a clever backwards header towards the bottom right. Navas keeps that one out brilliantly, too, though the flag then goes up for offside so it wouldn’t have counted anyway.
11 min: Gomes advances down the inside left and swings long for Hateboer, rushing in from the right. Hateboer heads down, the ball bouncing back up towards the top right. Navas claws out for a corner, a fine save.
9 min: Sportiello hovers over a garden-variety clearance and is nearly closed down. He eventually hacks clear with great uncertainty. Some early nerves on display from Atalanta’s stand-in keeper, their usual guy Pierluigi Gollini out for the duration of this tournament.
7 min: The Neymar chance doesn’t get any better the more you look at it. On the bench, Thomas Tuchel, his leg bound like the farmer in Withnail & I, reacted by spinning around in shock and disgust. But the way this match has opened, there’ll be other chances.
5 min: There were audible gasps from the few onlookers as Neymar fluffed that chance. That looked a sure thing from the moment he was sent scampering clear. Somewhere else in the multiverse, the scoreline of this match is 1-1. More of this, please!
3 min: An astonishing miss by Neymar! Icardi spins in the centre circle and slips the ball to the Brazilian genius, who tears clear of the Atalanta defence. He’s one on one with Sportiello. He opens his body and sidefoots past the keeper … but miles wide of the right-hand post!
2 min: Zapata slips a ball down the inside-left channel, and Gomez is found in an absurd amount of space. He enters the box and shoots low and hard, straight at Navas. He should have done better.
Atalanta get the ball rolling. They’re immediately on the front foot, Pasalic busying himself down the right and winning a throw deep in PSG territory. From it, Zapata nearly breaks into the box, but the door’s quickly closed. Gauntlet down immediately.
A moment of silence first, in memory of all those souls taken by Covid-19. RIP.
The teams are out! Atalanta wear their first-choice blue and black stripes. That forces PSG into their second kit of white shirts with red central stripe. The Champions League theme bangs out of the PA system, even though there’s nobody here to boo it. Everyone applauds nervously when it comes to an end. We’ll be off in a minute!
A graphic flashed up by BT Sport illustrates why we could be in for a some top-notch entertainment tonight. It’s a table of most goals per game in Europe’s top five leagues, and it looks like this:
- 2.9: Bayern Munich
- 2.8: PSG
- 2.7: Manchester City
- 2.6: Atalanta
- 2.5: Borussia Dortmund
A PSG fan since childhood writes: “I honestly wouldn’t mind losing against Atalanta,” insists Kári Tulinius. “Not that I won’t be supporting my club, tribalism has a hold on the soul, but if PSG has to lose to somebody this year, I’d rather it would be Atalanta than anyone else. So, I hope that I’ll be cheering one of these two teams on in the final.” Ah the mental gymnastics we football fans perform to limit potential heartache, as tension rises before kick-off and despair waits around the corner to give us a good shoeing. God speed, PSG fans. God speed, Atalanta supporters. Good luck tonight, everyone, and remember: rationalisation can be your friend.
Some more of the old required reading. Jonathan Wilson has Atalanta down as narrow victors tonight, partly on account of match sharpness, Serie A having been completed while Ligue 1 was not. Other opinions are available and valid, but then everyone on the internet knows that already, I don’t know why I mention it really.
Required pre-match reading.
Atalanta have to do without Josip Iličić, who put four past Valencia in their last Champions League match, and is missing for unspecified personal reasons. He hasn’t played since facing Juventus early last month. Meanwhile goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini has a knee injury; Marco Sportiello takes over in between the sticks.
Kylian Mbappe makes the PSG bench, having recovered from an ankle sprain. Angel di Maria misses out through suspension.
Atalanta: Sportiello, Toloi, Caldara, Djimsiti, Hateboer, de Roon, Freuler, Gosens, Gomez, Pasalic, Zapata.
Subs: Sutalo, Palomino, Czyborra, Muriel, Piccoli, Malinovsky, Da Riva, Castagne, Bellanova, Gelmi, Rossi, Colley.
Paris Saint-Germain: Navas, Kehrer, Thiago Silva, Kimpembe, Marquinhos, Sarabia, Gueye, Ander Herrera, Bernat, Icardi, Neymar.
Subs: Mbappe, Paredes, Sergio Rico, Choupo-Moting, Diallo, Draxler, Bakker, Kalimuendo, Bulka, Dagba, Mbe Soh, Ruiz-Atil.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (England).
Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio. La Dea. The Goddess. She’s only ever won one trophy in her 113-year existence: the 1963 Coppa Italia. Compare and contrast to Paris Saint Germain, who have lifted two trophies in their last two matches, winning both French cup finals to complete a domestic treble. Atalanta have suffered their two heaviest European defeats this season, losing 4-0 away to Dinamo Zagreb and 5-1 at Manchester City; PSG have got the better of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Atalanta are missing their leading scorer Josip Iličić; PSG will likely start with Neymar and have Kylian Mbappe in reserve. This doesn’t seem fair.
But look at it from another angle. Despite all the recent striving, PSG haven’t made it to the semis of the Champions League since their one visit in 1995. Atalanta haven’t got there at all, admittedly, but they’re not going into this match lumbered with the weight of expectation and a Qatari-funded complex. Atalanta are unbeaten against French opposition, while PSG have only won twice against an Italian side and that’s in 20 attempts, with the latest victory coming 24 years ago. And while PSG certainly know where the goal is, having scored 65 times in 20 games during 2020, Atalanta are even more renowned for their scoring prowess, their total of 98 Serie A goals this season being the highest in that notoriously stingy division since 1950. There’s a reason they’ve made it this far.
So while Thomas Tuchel’s side are favourites to make it to the semis for the first time, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are more than capable of turning them over. The first Champions League quarter-final at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica – the Estádio da Luz to ye and me – is a one-off tie. It could go to extra time. It could go to penalties. It could be a goal-fest. It’s on!
Kick off: 8pm BST, 9pm in Lisbon.
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