Much like the NBA sixth man who comes off the bench and drops straight buckets, Luis Muriel doesn't often find himself in the starting XI; but bring him off the bench in the second half and he can't help but score goals.
Muriel started just 10 Serie A matches last season yet was still Atalanta's joint-leading scorer. The Colombian striker scored 11 of his 18 goals after coming off the bench, averaging goal at an astonishing rate of once every 69 minutes.
His two second-half goals against Udinese last season (both fabulous strikes after coming on as a 52nd-minute sub, of course) were part 17 match unbeaten run for La Dea, a streak that helped the Bergamo club clinch a Champions League spot. Muriel scored seven goals off the bench during that stretch alone.
But none of his substitute goals will mean more to his club than the one Muriel scored against Ajax on Wednesday.
Atalanta entered the last match of the Champions League group stage at the Johan Cruyff Arena knowing that a draw would guarantee a spot in the UCL knockout stage. But the Italian side faced a tough road match against Dutch champion Ajax, which needed a victory to advance behind group winner Liverpool.
A tense, evenly contested match progressed with the scoreline still poised at 0-0 late into the second half. Enter Luis Muriel. Six minutes after coming on as a 79th-minute substitute, the Colombian striker latched onto the end of a Remo Freuler through ball, rounded goalkeeper Andre Onana and coolly slotted home to give his side the lead.
¡Goooooool del Atalanta!Luis Muriel abre el marcador y le daría la clasificación al cuadro italiano @AFCAjax 0-1 @Atalanta_BC
— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) December 9, 2020
Atalanta held on against 10-man Ajax for a 1-0 victory, dooming the Dutch side to the Europa League for the second consecutive season.
Ironically, this is the first Guriel has scored off the bench this season. But the Colombian has found the net five times already in his six starts this year, putting him well on track to match last season's impressive goal total.
The Champions League Round of 16 draw will take place Monday, Dec. 14, at 6 a.m. ET, or 7:10 if you're Luis Guriel.