Real Madrid will be aiming to take a step closer towards qualification to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals when they take on Atalanta this midweek.
Real Madrid will be aiming to make it five wins in five games across all competitions when they lock horns with Serie A outfit Atalanta at the Gewiss Stadium in the first leg of their 2020/21 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.
Real Madrid made it hard for themselves in the group stages of the Champions League but ultimately were able to qualify to the knockout stages as Group B winners. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Zinedine Zidane’s men have put together a four-game winning run, most recently beating Real Valladolid 1-0 despite all their injury problems.
Atalanta, meanwhile, finished second in Group D behind Liverpool, losing just one of their six games in the group phase. The last season’s quarter-finalists are in a good run of form, having not lost their last five games in a row, which includes a 4-2 win over Napoli in Serie A. And they will be aiming to extend that run against Real Madrid.
This will be the first time ever that Atalanta and Real Madrid take on against each other in a competitive setting. And ahead of this exciting match-up, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
— Atalanta B.C. (@Atalanta_BC) February 23, 2021
Heading into the game, the hosts, Atalanta have just one notable injury concern with Hans Hateboer set to miss out. Apart from that, manager Gian Piero Gasperini has a full squad at his disposal as he gears up to take on the reigning Spanish champions. Atalanta will set up in their preferred 3-4-1-2 formation in front of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.
Rafael Toloi, Cristian Romero and Berat Djmsiti ought to form the three-man defensive unit for La Dea with Joakim Maehle and Robin Gosens operating as the wing-backs. Given the way Atalanta set up, the two wing-backs will be the primary source of width going forward with Real Madrid needing to be particularly wary of the threat posed by Gosens when he pushes upfield in the left channel.
Marten de Roon and Remo Freuler will be tasked with holding the fort in the middle of the park and how they cope with Real Madrid counterparts Toni Kroos and Luka Modric can have a major say in the outcome of the encounter.
Josip Ilicic will be the danger man for the hosts with his sharp movement and ability to chip in with crucial goals. The veteran forward should operate in the hole behind the two strikers, Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel, both of whom were on target in the win against Napoli last time out.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Gollini; Toloi, Romero, Djimsiti; Maehle, de Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Ilicic; Zapata, Muriel
There is no respite whatsoever for Zinedine Zidane with respect to his squad’s injury issues as chief goalscorer Karim Benzema misses out again, along with key men Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard. In addition, Alvaro Odriozola, Rodrygo Goes, Federico Valverde, Marcelo and Eder Militao also miss out.
Given the circumstances, Zidane is likely to make no changes to the team that started at the weekend against Real Valladolid. Thibaut Courtois is the undisputed starter in goal while Raphael Varane and Nacho ought to form the centre-back partnership.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) February 22, 2021
At right-back, Lucas Vazquez gets the nod once again in Carvajal and Odriozola’s absence. He will have his hands full up against the dangerous Robin Gosens while Ferland Mendy slots in at left-back. Real have conceded just once in their last four games showing that the backline is doing its job.
But they will need additional protection from midfield enforcer Casemiro, who will also likely have to pay special attention to Ilicic throughout the game. Luka Modric, with his driving runs and Toni Kroos, with his sublime vision and distribution skills, will be the chief creative outlets for Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Upfront, there is little room for rotation due to injuries meaning the underwhelming trio of Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz start again hoping to fare better than they did against Valladolid. Isco could be an option from the bench along with youngsters Sergio Arribas and Hugo Duro.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Varane, Nacho, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Diaz, Vinicius
- This is the first competitive encounter between Atalanta and Real Madrid. In fact, Atalanta’s only previous meeting with a Spanish side in European competition was in last season’s Round of 16 when they faced Valencia – they won 8-4 on aggregate.
- Real Madrid have won each of their last five UEFA Champions League away games against Italian opposition. They had only won three of their previous 16 trips to Italy.
- Atalanta are the only remaining side in this round of 16 yet to win a single home game in the UEFA Champions League this season (D2 L1).
- Zinedine Zidane has prevailed as Real Madrid manager in 12 of his 13 UEFA Champions League knockout ties (9 home/away ties and 3 finals).
- Atalanta (quarter-finalists last year) are the first team since Sevilla (2007/08 & 2009/10) to reach the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League in each of their first two tournament appearances.
Player to Watch
Toni Kroos in his last 5 La Liga games:
• 26 chances created (5.2 per game).
• 80.9 passes completed per game.
• 94.8% pass accuracy.
• 90.2% long pass accuracy.
• 5 assists.
• 1 goal.
He’s on another level… pic.twitter.com/8QjS4bp6xl
— TC. (@totalcristiano) February 20, 2021
Despite the number of injuries, Real Madrid have managed to string together a four-game winning run and a lot of credit for that has to go to Toni Kroos. The classy midfielder has held the team together and made vital contributions in all of the Merengues’ wins of late, dictating play effectively and creating chances in big numbers from the centre.
However, that might not be as straightforward against Atalanta who will take the game to Real Madrid and press them intensely while the double-pivot of Marten de Roon and Remo Freuler pushes up to keep a close watch on the partnership of Kroos and Luka Modric, setting things up for a captivating battle in the middle of the park.
Atalanta 2-1 Real Madrid
Real Madrid come into the game on the back of a four-game winning run, in which they have kept clean sheets. However, they will be up against an Atalanta side that has lost just one of their last 11 home league games and has scored three or more in nine of those fixtures.
While Raphael Varane and Nacho have held things together at the back in recent games, things could get much harder against an in-form Atalanta attacking unit. At the other end, Real Madrid’s lack of quality was quite visible in the game against Valladolid, which is why The Hard Tackle is predicting Gian Piero Gasperini’s side to pick up a famous win on Wednesday.