Tonight’s selection of Champions League fixtures is spoiled to some extent by the fact that at least two groups are definitively decided, with both A and B not only sure which two teams are heading to the last sixteen, but also certain that PSG and Bayern will be the top sides ahead of Real Madrid and Tottenham. If you’re seeking drama in this night of European football, then it’s most likely to come in the early evening games in Group C, and particularly in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where exiled Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk will face Atalanta. While the Italian side sit bottom of a group that has already been won by Manchester City, a win tonight could yet see them into the next round.
A certain amount of what happens next will depend on what happens in Zagreb, where the group winners face Croatian champions Dinamo. A win for the home side there would ensure that Atalanta cannot progress, and mean that Shakhtar need a win to move on. With these two sides separated by two points, they cannot finish on level terms and therefore will not need to be cognisant of the head-to-head record between them. That’s good news for Atalanta, who lost their home game against this opponent back in October. Having recently woken up after losing their first three group stage games, a win and qualification tonight would be a remarkable achievement for the Italian side. Can they achieve it?
Goals set to flow in Kharkiv
In the city that is apparently known as Ukraine’s premier IT outsourcing hub, neither side can afford too much buffering this evening. One of the standout facts about Group C has been the high-scoring nature of many games, with Atalanta having found themselves on the wrong end of two hammerings in their visits to Manchester (5-1) and Zagreb (4-0). With that said, they’re not a goalshy team themselves; though they currently occupy sixth place in Serie A, they lead its goalscoring chart with 37 from 15 games. Colombian striker Luis Muriel can claim nine of those, but the finishing work has been spread pretty neatly through an attacking team.
Therefore it’s in neither side’s interest to sit back and frustrate their opponent this evening. A draw is of no use to the home team and a defeat sees them out, so both sides have an incentive to win this one, even more so than is usually the case at this stage of the competition. With two clubs more blessed on the attack than defensively, it’s worth backing a high-scoring encounter. At Fun88, there are odds of 13/5 on the contest featuring more than 4.5 goals. That’s an attractive proposition given the stakes and the teams involved.
Miners to benefit from “home advantage”
Due to their home ground being in what we can’t help but describe as a war zone, Shakhtar do not currently play in their home city of Donetsk, while Atalanta have been playing their home games in Milan. The reasons for the latter are two-fold; firstly, their own stadium is being renovated and does not meet UEFA standards, and secondly, it’s not like AC Milan are getting much use out of it on European nights. Nonetheless, that makes tonight’s game a derby of sorts, between two sides who aren’t at home even when they are.
Much of Atalanta’s slow start in the competition can be laid at the door of this unfamiliarity, but Shakhtar are less discomfited by the same issue. For one thing, they’ve been based outside of their home city since 2014 and it’s now second nature. For another, literal civil war can be off-putting, so few players will be complaining about the peripatetic nature of the club’s home address. Shakhtar have kept winning their domestic league and they will also be comfortable with the weather of a Ukrainian December night. At 13/8, Paddy Power actually have them as underdogs for this game – we’d go against the bookmaker there, as they should have enough about them to win.
Will the visitors be caught cold?
There is no point denying that, although it would make a great story, Atalanta have a mountain to climb in order to get into the top two in this group. They are relying on Manchester City to give it their best in Zagreb despite having absolutely no need to. They are also dependent on being able to come to Ukraine and win against a side that rarely gives anything up on home soil. There’s no holding off and waiting to see what develops, here – the Italian side simply need to win, and need to go about making that happen from minute one.
That will leave them prone to being picked off on the counter, and if they concede they will need to chase the game. This will leave them even more prone, and you can see how that would quickly become a problem for the visitors. At William Hill, the home side’s main striker Moraes can be backed to score at least twice at enhanced odds of 8/1. He’s rattled in a goal a game so far in domestic competition, and could well add to his tally of sixteen for the season here. That makes the enhanced odds sensational value.
Bets of the Day
Moraes to score 2+ (William Hill, 8/1); More than 4.5 goals (Fun88, 13/5); Shakhtar to win (Paddy Power, 13/8)