The odds were stacked against the Galacticos in the first leg of the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 against last season’s semifinalists Atalanta.
Real Madrid had injuries to some of their key starting 11 players including captain Sergio Ramos but Zinedine Zidane’s side overcame the odds to beat the Italian club 1-0 in Bergamo, Italy.
Ferland Mendy scored the winner for Madrid late in the game after 86 minutes to secure the victory for the Spanish champions.
It did not come easy and Real should consider themselves a touch fortunate as Atalanta had to play majority of the game being down to 10 men after Remo Freuler was sent off in the 17th minute.
Apart from Ramos, Madrid were also missing stars Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard. Even though they had a numbers advantage, they still struggled to test Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini in goal. Madrid had a great chance to go ahead towards the end of the first half as Casemiro’s header had to be dealt with by keeper Gollini with a reflex save.
Atalanta did extremely well up until the 86th minute and had hopes of picking up a draw, which would have been a good result having gone down to 10 men for over 70 minutes of the game.
Mendy, however spoiled the party with a beautiful curling effort from the edge of the box to give Madrid the all-important away goal and take a lead going back to the Santiago Bernabeu. This was Mendy’s first Champions League goal and it could not have come at a better time for the Galacticos.
Atalanta will be extremely disappointed as they put up a dogged display defensively only to concede so late on in the game as they team still awaits its first win at home in this year’s Champions League.
Zidane, meanwhile, will be eyeing a 13th knockout-tie victory from 14 attempts after Real progressed from the group stages for a record 24th consecutive Champions League campaign!
The Real Madrid boss said, “They’re [Atlanta] physically strong, and they did a great defensive job. It’s a good result for us and that’s the most important thing. I don’t think creativity is an issue as we scored, and didn’t concede.”
“We’ve got a lot of absentees but we’re on the right track, we’re strong defensively, didn’t give up any chances and got our away goal.”
Atalanta head coach Gian Piero Gasperini also had a word about the game, “It’s disappointing to not have been able to play this game as we wanted to. Down to 10 men, it was a different game. We had to defend, and we did it well.”
He went on to add, “We just have to win in Madrid. It’s easy. We can’t overthink. We just have one possibility. We must win.”
It is going to be difficult for Atalanta in the second leg but you cannot rule them out yet.