In case you have forgotten, we have reached the crucial stage of the Champions League and Serie A is very well represented. Atalanta, this season’s surprise package whichever way you look at it, are already through to the quarters, with Juventus and Napoli still to complete their round of 16 ties. So what do the Italian triumvirate need to do to bring club football’s most prestigious trophy back to these shores for the first time since 2010?
The New Look Tournament
The format for the conclusion of this year’s tournament has been finalised. Atalanta, having brushing aside Valencia 8-4 on aggregate, can sit back and plan their trip to the Portuguese capital. Juve and Napoli still have a lot to do to secure their places.
There is no doubt that the remainder of the tournament will be like no other, and the fact that games are behind closed doors and then in neutral venues will have a bearing. The players have quickly got used to not having the crowd, however, and fans, who have been flocking to online entertainment portals like Unibet betting and Netflix this summer, will still be able to watch all the games on BT Sport or CBS Sports.
Juventus were perhaps handed the easiest draw of the Italian sides. However, a poor first 45 minutes compounded by a second half where they could not convert pressure or attempts into a single shot on target, gifted Lyon their first ever win over them. Even without an away goal, they would have been confident of turning it around in Turin but with no crowd, home advantage has been seen throughout Europe to have all but disappeared.
Added to that, the side is just not capable of grinding out a victory. They have played expansively, but have been far too reliant on individual pieces of brilliance, mainly from Ronaldo, or simply good finishing from some of the best exponents of that in the game. That may sound like an odd criticism, but it can flatter a team when most of their chances or half chances are converted. When it is not their day, or a team is able to negate their main threats, it looks a lot less impressive. That night in Lyon is a case in point. The French outfit, despite being 7th in Ligue 1, will be confident they will be able to find the net at least once against a side that has found it increasingly difficult to keep sides at bay.
Gennaro Gattuso’s team, on paper, have the toughest ask of the three. Griezmann’s equalizer means Napoli have to go to the Camp Nou and get their second ever win in the Champions League knock out stages. A tough task, but one that has been made a lot less tough by the absence of fans. This Barcelona side is not one that should cast fear into Neapolitan hearts, a side that will be further weakened by the absence of Busquets and Vidal, both of whom will be suspended for the return leg. Napoli, especially in the second half, showed that they were capable of stifling Barca, allowing them possession but not letting them do much of note with it.
Barcelona will no doubt take the game to their opponents, but if Napoli can mirror the high press they used in the first leg, they will be confident that they can nullify the Catalan threat. Though Udinese and Barcelona are from two ends of the footballing scale, their performance, and more crucially their tactics from that game, can be used as a template on how to use their press to good effect.
Sometimes a season just clicks for a club, and this season that club is Atalanta. Sitting second in the league and with a Champions League quarter final secured against PSG, it could not have gone much better for them. Few teams in Europe have utilised the overload as effectively, a tactic that has seen them find the opponent’s net almost a hundred times in Serie A already. Crucially, they have managed to take that form and bravado into the Champions League. The new format will suit teams that have no experience in tournament football. Out of all three, Gian Piero Gasperini could very well have the best chance of lifting the trophy.