Nkunku’s double eliminates Atalanta to guide Leipzig into Europa League semis

Mueez Ajao

– RB Leipzig’s in-form French forward Christopher Nkunku sent them through to the Europa League last four after his double earned the German side a 2-0 win at Atalanta on Thursday, sealing a 3-1 aggregate quarterfinal success.

– Following their draw in the first leg in Germany, Leipzig dominated in Bergamo, deservedly taking the lead when Nkunku slotted home from close range in the 18th minute.

– Atalanta just could not get going, with Leipzig having chances to make the result more comfortable before Nkunku sealed the victory by winning and converting a late penalty to take his tally to 30 for the season in all competitions.

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– The visitors, who reached the Champions League semifinals two seasons ago, booked a Europa League last-four meeting with Braga or Rangers, who play later on Thursday with the Portuguese leading the Scottish side 1-0 from the first leg.

– “It’s a fantastic night, it is not easy to win here,” Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco told UEFA.com.

– “There were no secrets to win, we defended well and unlike the first leg we did well to get past their press.”

– Poor domestic form has seen Atalanta, who have been a regular fixture in the Champions League in recent seasons, drop to eighth in the Serie A standings.

– Putting their recent struggles to one side, and having got a more than commendable draw from the first leg in Germany, they will have fancied their chances to get the job done on Thursday.

– But other than full-back Davide Zappacosta’s early effort, they did not really test keeper Peter Gulacsi, with the majority of the goalmouth action taking place down the other end.

– The strike that edged Leipzig ahead in the tie came from a swift counter, with Konrad Laimer racing down the left before cutting the ball back for Nkunku, who was never going to miss given the season he is having.

– The 24-year-old could only find the side netting when through on goal after the interval, though, with Laimer unable to convert after an error from goalkeeper Juan Musso.

– As Leipzig pressed forward in the search for an equaliser, Yussuf Poulsen threaded Nkunku through and he was brought down by Musso before hammering home the spot kick in the 87th.

– That wrapped up a deserved win for Leipzig who continue to go from strength to strength under Tedesco, with seven away wins in a row and 13 games unbeaten in all competitions.

– “They are undoubtedly dangerous, an excellent team,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “They have pace and speed, they play very tightly and then go on the counter-attack. Sometimes they do them very well.

– “We attacked for a long time and unfortunately in recent weeks we have difficulty in finding the last pass, or the decisive shot — even if for long stretches it was an excellent match for Atalanta tonight.”