Soccer-Red-hot Nkunku fires Leipzig to Europa League semis
BERGAMO, Italy (Reuters) -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 quarter-final 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.Juergen Klopp's side had been 3-1 up on the night before the visitors struck twice late in the game to create a jittery finale to what had appeared to be a comfortable passage.Chelsea had looked on course to complete an astonishing comeback after taking a 3-0 lead in their quarter-final second leg with goals from Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger and an excellent individual effort from Timo Werner.Tensions boiled over in the closing stages and Atletico defender Felipe was sent off after receiving a second yellow card before the teams played out 12 minutes of added time.
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.The visitors, who reached the Champions League semi-finals 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.With a 3-1 lead from the first leg in Lisbon, Liverpool manager Klopp made seven changes to the team which drew with Manchester City at the weekend, but his squad showed their improved strength in depth with Luis Diaz and Kostas Tsimikas particularly impressing."It’s a fantastic night, it is not easy to win here," Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco told UEFA.(Reporting by Fernando Kallas in Madrid; Editing by Toby Davis) Article type: metered.com.Konate, who had also scored in the first leg, rose well to meet Tsimikas's corner and give Liverpool a three-goal cushion."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.Brazilian Firmino scored twice after the break as Liverpool looked to make sure of a place in the semi-finals for the third time in five seasons.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.Firmino's second goal was a more elegant affair -- Tsimikas floating a free kick over the Benfica defence for the striker to beat Vlachodimos with a side-footed volley.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.Substitute Roman Yaremchuk made it 3-2, the Ukrainian forward latching on to a through ball from Alejandro Grimaldo and rounding Alisson before sliding his finish into the empty net.
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.It was a similar story for their equaliser on the night - with Nunez's effort, after Benfica sprung Liverpool's offside trap, also ruled out before the intervention from VAR."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.Liverpool's thoughts will now turn to their FA Cup semi-final with Premier League title rivals Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday.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.(Reporting by Simon EvansEditing by Toby Davis) Article type: metered." (Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris) Article type: metered.
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