When two-time European champion Eric Abidal began this morning's draw for the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League, to be played on 15 and 22 February 2018, Borussia Dortmund were the first name out of the hat. The opponents are Atalanta – not an entirely unknown entity.
"We're looking forward to a very attractive draw," noted Sporting Director Michael Zorc, adding: "As a team they are very strong defensively and caused a surprise by finishing fourth in Italy last season."
BVB last encountered the Lombardy-based outfit only a few months ago, when they met in a friendly at the beginning of August. Atalanta's defensive strength was evident that night as the Black & Yellows were condemned to a 1-0 defeat despite setting the pace. The Italian side's rearguard – which conceded only 41 goals in 38 games last season – was the foundation for the most successful campaign in their history, which culminated in a fourth-placed finish in Serie A. The men from Bergamo currently occupy 11th spot in the Italian top flight, though they have the fifth-best defence in the league. Gian Piero Gasperini's men finished the group stages of the UEFA Europa League in top spot with an impressive 14 points, having prevailed in a group including Everton (3-0 and 5-1), Apollon Limassol (3-1 and 1-1) and Lyon (1-0 and 1-1).
The two legs in next round will be the 32nd and 33rd meetings with Italian opposition in BVB's long European history. They have faced opposition from Serie A more times than any other league, and have a record of 10 wins, 17 defeats and four draws from those meetings.
For their home games in the Europa League, the 1963 Italian Cup winners have had to relocate to the MAPEI Stadium in Reggio nell’Emilia, where the 2016 Women's Champions League final was played. The capacity is 20,084, meaning Borussia Dortmund will only be able to bring around 1,000 travelling fans.
The advanced sale for the first leg on 15 February at Signal Iduna Park will begin in the second week of 2018. Season ticket holders with the options "international" and "maximal" will also be informed about the release and debiting process in the second calendar week. Boris Rupert