NKUNKU’S DOUBLE STRIKE SEES RB LEIPZIG TO EUROPA SEMI-FINALS.
Christopher Nkunku put RB Leipzig into the last four of the UEFA Europa League (UEL) at the expense of Atalanta, as the Frenchman bagged a brace in a 2-0 second-leg win at Stadio di Bergamo to help his side progress 3-1 on aggregate.
Following an entertaining 1-1 draw last week, an absorbing contest again unfolded between two evenly-matched sides. For Leipzig, André Silva struck wayward from the edge of the area, while Atalanta’s Davide Zappacosta saw his tame shot easily saved. Péter Gulácsi then denied Ruslan Malinovskyi but, despite holding on at one end, Leipzig broke the deadlock at the other in the 18th minute. A slick move saw Konrad Laimer dart into the area and tee up Nkunku, who netted from six yards out.
Both Atalanta and Leipzig have scored at least once in each of their European matches this season, so a response was almost expected from the hosts. Atalanta might have pulled level before the break, but Teun Koopmeiners saw his shot blocked, and Duván Zapata was also wasteful. The HT whistle meant Atalanta had 45 minutes to recover and subsequently reach their first-ever UEL semi-final, and they might have been awarded a penalty soon after the interval when Malinovskyi’s free-kick hit Dani Olmo’s hand. However, after taking a trip to the VAR monitor, referee Antonio Lahoz stuck with his original decision.
Leipzig then should have doubled their lead, as Laimer pounced on a keeping error, but the Austrian could not guide his effort on target before Nkunku was denied by Juan Musso. The misses almost proved costly when Atalanta’s Hans Hateboer volleyed just over the bar from a tight angle, but Leipzig were awarded a penalty after Musso tripped Nkunku late on. The 24-year-old then converted from the spot, his 28th goal of the season and 11th in his last nine away matches, to set up a tie against either Rangers or Braga. Atalanta, meanwhile, will now turn their attention back to Serie A where, currently eighth in the table, they face a huge challenge to return to European football next year.