Atalanta vs Villareal 2-3: Yellow Submarines Hold Off Italian Comeback

Due to the heavy snows that fell on Bergamo on Wednesday, football fans had to wait until Thursday to find out the identity of the team that would complete the Champions League Round of 16. While Villareal only needed a draw from their extended Italian trip to seal their qualification, Atalanta had no other option but to win in front of their home supporters.

The Spaniards took the lead early on, before adding a second at the end of the first half, and third after the break. The Italians tried to mount an almost impossible comeback, but their revival was too little too late, as it ended 3-2 in favor of the visitors who booked their spot in the knockout stages.

Gian Piero Gasperini adopted a 3-4-1-2 formation with Matteo Pessina supporting the experienced striking duo of Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic. Remo Freuler and Marten de Roon played in the double pivot as usual , while Joakim Maehle and Hans Hateboer took the wingback roles.

On the other other hand, Unai Emery maintained his usual 4-4-2 lineup, spearheaded by Gerard Moreno and Arnaut Danjuma. Moi Gomez and Alberto Gomez played on the wings while Dani Parejo operated in the middle of the park alongside Etienne Capoue.

Although Atalanta were supposed to be the ones chasing the first goal, it only took Villareal three minutess to break the deadlock.

Merih Demiral completely fumbled his run, allowing Parejo to pounce on his mistake. The Spaniard put Danjuma one-on-one against Juan Musso with sublime through ball, and the striker’s shot crept between the goalkeeper’s legs, leaving the Gewiss stadium crowd shell-shocked.

After 15 minutes of play, La Dea tested Geronimo Rulli for the first time. Freuler sent a curling shot towards the top corner, but the Argentine goalkeeper was up to the task, denying the effort with an impressive dive.

Danjuma continued to threaten the Italian defenses with Demiral in particular looking shaky. But the Dutchman’s second shot on target was too weak to trouble Musso.

The Turkish defender almost made up for his earlier mistake as he rose to meet ilicic’s corner kick, but Rulli dived to save the header and maintain the Spanish lead.

Just when Atalanta were beginning to threaten their opponents’ goal, Villareal doubled their lead at the 41st minute. A mix of slick passing from the Yellow Submarines and mediocre defending from the Italians saw Capoue receiving the ball inside the box and smashing his shot to the roof of the goal.

As the referee blew his halftime whistle, the Orobici found themselves three goals away from qualification.

After the break, Gasperini immediately introduced Ruslan Malinovskiy and Berat Djimsiti for the disappointing Pessina and Demiral.

And yet, Villareal once again found the back of the net at the beginning of the half. Gerard Moreno rounded José Luis Palomino before delivering an assist to Danjuma who sealed the deal.

After a string of wasted chances, the Italians finally grabbed their first goal through Malinovkiy on the 70th minute, bursting some life into the despaired home crowd. The Ukrainian playmaker unleashed a shot that was deflected into the net after hitting Raul Albiol.

At the 80th minute, Ilicic delivered a brilliant through ball to Zapata who chipped it over the Villareal goalkeeper, bringing Atalanta back to the match, even though they still needed another two goals to qualify.

Luis Muriel almost delivered the equalizer but his fabulous shot hit the post and Rafael Toloi couldn’t direct the rebound into the open net.

In the end, the Submarines managed to survive the late onslaught and maintain their lead. The Spaniards end up being the 16th and final team to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages.

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