Being unseeded in the Europa League draw meant Dortmund were exposed to being drawn with some major football brands in the round of 32. Instead, the Black and Yellow will face a club that some football fans may be unfamiliar with but could prove to be a major challenge to Dortmund advancing. On Monday, Dortmund drew Atalanta in the knockout round of 32 in the competition and, as the unseeded side, will host the first match on February 15. BVB will then travel to Lombardy on February 22.
La Dea were the stars of Serie A last season. A club that had only finished in the top half of the table twice in ten years, the young squad looked to be headed to a relegation battle in the fall of 2016. A funny thing happened though – Atalanta kept winning. They notched victories over Napoli, Milan, and Roma on the way to a fourth place finish. Manager Gian Piero Gasperini was linked to some high profile jobs. Young players like Andrea Conti and Franck Kessie caught the eye of larger clubs in a breakout season.
One year removed from the impressive run, the pressure and fixture congestion of competing in the Europa League as well as Italian competitions have taken their tole on the club. Currently they sit twelfth in the Serie A table, nine points above the relegation zone. Gone are Conti and Kessie, but replacing them are – not surprisingly – some promising young stars. Their leading scorer with five goals is currently Bryan Cristante, a 22-year-old Italian national. Also in the mix however are veteran attacking players like Slovenia’s Josip Illic.
As mediocre as their league record is, their European record this season is anything but. La Dea finished atop Group E – ahead of Lyon – with three wins and two draws. England fans will remember their thorough thrashings of Everton, winning 3-0 and 5-1 in the group. Not bad for a club making its first appearance in a European competition in 26 years.
The draw creates an interesting tactical match-up for the Black and Yellow. Atalanta under Gasperini play a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 that allows for offensive outbursts while maintaining a tough defensive shape to break down (sound familiar?). Depending on how Stoeger lines up his team, Dortmund may have to decide how it wants to handle a possible numbers disadvantage in the midfield. In recent weeks Atalanta has struggled against good sides with five in the midfield; their last loss was 2-0 to an Inter sides that deployed a 4-2-3-1. By February, this could be a vastly different side, and the Europa League could be the main prize for their opponents. Despite not drawing a better known opponent, this could be a massive test for BVB.