Europe: Europa League
1 - 1
(0 - 1)
RB Leipzig
X A. Silva (58)
L. Muriel (17), D. Zappacosta (58)
By Ultan Corcoran@UltanCorcoran

Leipzig and Atalanta inseparable after 1-1 first-leg stalemate

Atalanta took an early lead through Luis Muriel but Leipzig battled back to draw - all to play for ahead of the second-leg in Bergamo.
Having thrashed Dortmund in the Bundesliga last weekend, a motivated RB Leipzig got their UEFA Europa League Quarter-final show under way as they welcomed the high-octane Italian outfit of Atalanta to the RedBull Arena. Having already defeated fellow Germans, Bayer Leverkusen in the previous round, the team from Bergamo were looking for a fifth consecutive win to make it their most successful run in European competition to date. However, this was not to be the case as Tedesco’s side battled hard for a 1-1 draw.

As always, Nkunku looked sharp from the outset – he landed Atalanta centre half Palomino in hot water with a third minute yellow card, before going on to glide past challenges and sting the palms of Juan Musso in goal. Interestingly it was the visitors who struck first, and a blistering strike at that from Luis Muriel. After collecting a pass from Zappacosta, the Colombian cut in from the left, skipped past two tame RB tackles and rifled the ball into the top righthand corner for 0-1.

Die Roten Bullen almost pulled themselves level on 24 minutes but fell agonisingly short of that mark. In what looked like a spurned counterattack initiated by Konrad Laimer, the ball fortuitously fell into the past of Silva. The Portuguese striker steadied himself and whipped an effort towards goal only to be cruelly denied by the woodwork. Chances were few and far between, yet Atalanta’s Pasalic came within inches of doubling his sides lead approaching the interval. Another move from the left flank, and the Croat evaded the efforts of Orban but his shot rebounded off the left upright to trail wide.

Neither side made any alterations from the benches at halftime, and again it was Atalanta who started the brighter of the two when Muriel found Zappacosta. The blue and black clad team seemed to make a habit of getting in behind Henrichs’ defensive cover, however the former Chelsea full-back could only shoot down the throat of Gulacsi. The Hungarian then pulled off a fine save to deny Muriel once more in the subsequent passage.

In a few frenzied minutes of play, Leipzig seemed to bag an early lifeline when Nkunku’s wizardry drew a foul from Demiral in the box. A spot kick was awarded and Silva, who missed his penalty against Sociedad in the previous round, did so again when Musso acrobatically denied the striker and parried the rebounding header away to safety. Elation quickly turned to shock for Gasperini’s charges as the following cross from Angelino turned goalward through a combination of Orban and Zappacosta to level matters at 1-1.

Substitutes rolled on for both teams and both Duvan Zapata, Boga, and Forsberg enjoyed half chances at either end as the game opened up. Halstenberg and Szoboszlai entered the fray with 15 minutes to play but Atalanta continued to have the slight upper edge as the shot count read 7 – 17 in favour of the Italians. Another perfect delivery from Angelino found Szoboszlai who almost put his side in front with minutes to play, but his headed effort clipped off the bar and away from danger.

More drama ensued close to the final whistle as Szoboszlai forced Musso to keep Leipzig at bay again. The resulting corner pinged about the box and a last gasp Mukiele effort was heroically blocked on the line by Demiral as Atalanta clung on to the result. Honours even in the end as both sides face Hoffenheim and Sassuolo respectively on the domestic front, before locking horns again in Bergamo next Thursday.

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