Nkunku double guides Leipzig into the Europa League semi-finals
By Ultan Corcoran @UltanCorcoran
Leipzig defended stoutly throughout while Nkunku scored either side of the half to advance 0-2 (1-3 agg.) in Bergamo.
|Christopher Nkunku.||Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0|
The hosts started the livelier of the two and dominated large spells of possession in the opening quarter of an hour. The tide began to turn however, and Leipzig took the lead just before the 20-minute mark with a lightening quick counterattack. Konrad Laimer, the man in form for RB in recent weeks, broke down the right wing tearing past Palomino to cut the ball back to Nkunku. Tedesco’s star man was never in a position to miss as he blasted home inside the right upright from 7 yards to give his side into an early 0-1 advantage.
After bagging that all important first goal, the visitors from Saxony were happy to sit back and do as best they could to absorb any Atalanta attacks. They did so to good effect as the game neared the half-time break, even managing to hit on the counterattack again once or twice in the process through Angelino and Laimer again.
Less than five minutes after the restart and Atalanta won a freekick when Heinrichs committed a foul outside the box. Malinovskyi’s free kick cannoned off Olmo’s hand and there was a momentary VAR check from Spanish referee Lahoz, but he surprisingly stuck to his on-field decision of no penalty.
Luis Muriel, Atalanta’s goal scorer in the first leg, was introduced shortly before the hour mark. A marauding run from the aforementioned Colombian drew a free from Orban who was subsequently booked meaning he will miss the semi-final first-leg tie with either Rangers or Braga in a fortnight’s time. Nkunku almost found his second of the night on 67 minutes when he sliced inside Palomino. His near post shot was destined for the net only for it to be foiled by a brilliant reactionary Juan Musso save.
Duvan Zapata threatened to score all night and there was service aplenty for the towering Atalanta striker to feed off. Nonetheless, nothing seemed to be working for him as headers sailed harmlessly wide and into Gulacsi’s gloves as the game ticked towards its conclusion.
Leipzig were then offered a chance to wrap it up on 87 minutes via the penalty spot. Substitute Poulsen’s delightfully weighted pass found the Frenchman in acres of space. He composed himself in trademark fashion before rounding Musso who felled him in the process. Nkunku then made it a 30-goal individual season burying the spot kick high to the left beyond the Argentine’s fingertips for 0-2. Simakan picked up another needless yellow in stoppage time which will rule him out with Orban, but that will do little to dampen RB fans’ joy.
Leipzig performed brilliantly throughout on the night and richly deserved their progression into the final four of the competition, with a meeting against one of Braga or Rangers in store in two weeks’ time.