Europa League: Lookman Atalanta Set For Sturm Graz Clash
Ademola Lookman’s Atalanta BC will be looking to keep their unbeaten record in the 2023-24 Europa League intact when they take on SK Sturm Graz at Gewiss Stadium on Thursday evening.
These sides played out a 2-2 draw in the first group stage meeting a couple of weeks ago, which saw the hosts remain in the lead with seven points while the visitors are in third place with four points.
Atalanta has taken a solid lead in the the group standings, three points clear of Sporting Lisbon and this opponent, and another win here will put them in the driver’s seat to reach the knockout stages with just two matches left to go in the group.
The hosts claimed a point at Merkur Arena two weeks ago, with both their goals coming from Luis Muriel, but they will likely feel that they should have got more from the match, having played the majority of the second half with a man advantage.
Nevertheless, La Dea will still be positive about their chances of claiming the win here on their home patch, where they have excelled this season, losing only once in six matches in all competitions.
That loss came last week against Inter Milan and ended a run of five unbeaten home games in which the hosts had not conceded a single goal, including shutting out the likes of Juventus and Rakow Czestochowa while scoring nine at the other end.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have also scored two goals in each of their matches in this competition, including against Sporting Lisbon, where Giorgio Scalvini (19) and Matteo Ruggeri (21) became the two youngest players to have scored a goal for Atalanta in a major European competition.
Meanwhile, Sturm Graz was agonizingly knocked out of this competition last season due to their goal difference of -6, which left them at the foot of the standings, despite all four teams in the group ending with an identical record of eight points each.
The visitors will be determined not to let something similar happen this time around, but they have hit a bit of a difficult patch of late and come into this match with just one victory in their last four games in all competitions.
While Christian Ilzer would have hoped for more from their home fixture against this opponent, he would have taken several positives from the match, especially the manner in which his side responded to going a goal and a man down in the second half.
Following that 2-2 draw a fortnight ago, The Blackies only win came against lower-league opponents Grazer AK in the Cup, while they lost 1-0 to Austria Vienna and 3-1 to LASK in league action last weekend.
Notably, though, that loss to LASK was the only one they have suffered on the road since they were knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by PSV Eindhoven back in August this year.
Rafael Toloi was shown a red card against Inter Milan in the league but is expected to start this match before serving his one-match ban away to Udinese this weekend.
Muriel has scored two in this competition so far and should lead the line alongside Ademola Lookman, while Teun Koopmeiners is likely to start as the most advanced player in the five-man midfield.
Ilzer will have to make do without the services of Otar Kiteishvili (Achilles tendon), Seedy Jatta (hip injury), and Niklas Geyrhofer, with all three players ruled out due to injury.
Alexander Prass is also set to miss out on league action due to an accumulation of yellow cards but should start this match in his customary number 10 role behind Szymon Włodarczyk and Manprit Sarkaria.