Atalanta might not be a big name, but Borussia Dortmund will have their work cut out in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Peter Stöger spoke about the Bergamo-based outfit with great respect at his pre-match presser, describing them as "on the same level as AC Milan".
BVB go into Thursday evening's (kick-off 19:00 CET) Europa League first leg at a not yet sold-out Signal Iduna Park having built up a head of steam in the league with two wins on the bounce. "We do not regard this competition as a consolation prize," assured defender Ömer Toprak, pointing to the – in some cases, high-profile – "clubs still in it. "We want to show that we're BVB. And I hope that we will have many, many Europa League games ahead of us this season."
Their opponents in the Round of 32 finished last season's Serie A in fourth place. The Italian outfit are a "well-organised opponent that play a very active and physical game," said Peter Stöger, who believes Atalanta are "on the same level as AC Milan" and highlighted their "quality on the counter and danger from set-pieces". He is expecting a tight game in the middle of the park – "Italian-style" – and added: "The majority of the team are prepared to take the unpleasant route. We've been warned. But we've also seen a few things that we hope we'll be able to benefit from."
The Black & Yellows have had some almost "real-life" practice of late, having recently played host to two teams – Freiburg (2-2) and Hamburg (2-0) – that are both focused and solid defensively. "Those were difficult matches that we did not lose at the end of the day," explained Stöger. The task at hand on Thursday will be to "get into the dangerous areas" and then to "make the right individual decisions to create shooting opportunities".
One player expected to be involved is returnee Reus, who could be in the starting XI if the risk is deemed manageable. "Everyone wants him to stay fit. He's making a good impression on me," explained the coach, adding: "If a player of his quality is doing well, then the coach is happy and in a normal-case scenario he would be part of the group."
However, the Austrian is likely to be without Shinji Kagawa, who was substituted off with an ankle injury on Saturday. The Japan international is suffering from an infection as well. Marcel Schmelzer is also on the verge of returning to a squad that will be aiming to use the home advantage to set themselves up nicely for the return leg in a week's time. "If you get a good result," said Stöger, "you're not yet through, with an average result you can correct it in a week's time..."
There have been some outstanding performances against Italian opposition before: BVB beat AC Milan 4-0 16 years ago...