Real Madrid will be aiming to book their place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals when they lock horns with Atalanta BC on Tuesday night.
Champions League football returns to our screens this week as the final set of the Round of 16 second leg fixtures get played out. And, on Tuesday night, reigning Spanish champions Real Madrid will be action against Serie A outfit Atalanta at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, hoping to make it through to the quarterfinals.
Real Madrid head into the game with a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg courtesy of a Ferland Mendy strike. Since that victory though, Zinedine Zidane’s side have looked dodgy, being held to 1-1 draws by Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid and just about managing to win over strugglers Elche in La Liga last time out.
Atalanta, meanwhile, are in better shape coming into Tuesday’s clash. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have won three of their four games since losing to Real Madrid, most recently beating Spezia 3-1 in Serie A. In the process, they have scored 10 goals while letting in just three and must carry that momentum forward to stand a chance of making a comeback.
It promises to be an intriguing clash on Tuesday night with Atalanta well within a shout of making it through despite Real Madrid’s narrow advantage. And ahead of their meeting at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
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Having welcomed Eden Hazard back into the squad just this past weekend, Zinedine Zidane will once again have to make do without the Belgian who has fallen to another injury. In addition, star midfielder Casemiro will also miss out due to suspension, dealing a double blow to Real Madrid.
Marcelo is fit and available again though for Los Blancos but Dani Carvajal, Mariano Diaz and Alvaro Odriozola are unavailable. Zidane tried a three-man defensive unit against Elche at the weekend and could stick with a similar setup when Atalanta come visiting.
In goal, there is no looking past Thibaut Courtois, who will need to be at his best to keep Atalanta out. Sergio Ramos returned from injury at the weekend and should start as part of the three-man backline, alongside Raphael Varane and Nacho, who has been in impressive form of late.
Lucas Vazquez, who ought to continue at right wing-back, will have the unenviable task of keeping a watch on the dangerous Robin Gosens while Ferland Mendy will essay a similar role on the left. Between the two, the midfield trifecta of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde could start, with the latter replacing Casemiro as the enforcer.
Up top, Karim Benzema returned to form with a match-winning brace against Elche on Saturday and is a certain starter against Atalanta. Rodrygo Goes, who was a bright spark coming off the bench at the weekend should replace his compatriot Vinicius Junior as Benzema’s partner.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Courtois; Varane, Ramos, Nacho; Vazquez, Modric, Valverde, Kroos, Mendy; Rodrygo, Benzema
Atalanta will be without midfield mainstay Remo Freuler who was sent off in the first leg and is suspended. Apart from him, Bosko Sutalo and Hans Hateboer also miss out for the visitors. There is some good news though as Berat Djimsiti has been named in the squad despite concerns over his availability after he was taken off injured against Spezia.
— Atalanta B.C. (@Atalanta_BC) March 15, 2021
Marco Sportiello has been preferred in goal over Pierluigi Gollini in the four games since the first leg and that could stay the same on Tuesday night. With Djimsiti available, he should feature in the three-man backline alongside Cristian Romero and Rafael Toloi.
Joakim Maehle ought to continue as the right wing-back in Hateboer’s absence while Robin Gosens is a certainty on the left. The German wing-back will pose a serious threat with his forward forays and ability to score and create chances for his teammates.
Marten de Roon will hold the fort in the middle of the park and could be partnered by Mario Pasalic in the absence of the suspended Freuler. Matteo Pessina and Josip Ilicic ought to slot in as the two attacking midfielder, playing off of the main striker Luis Muriel. Duvan Zapata will be an option from the bench for Gian Piero Gasperini.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Sportiello; Toloi, Romero, Djimsiti; Maehle, de Roon, Pasalic, Gosens; Ilicic, Pessina; Muriel
- Real Madrid have progressed from eight of their last nine UEFA Champions League knockout ties when they have won the first leg away from home.
- This will be just the second time that Atalanta are facing a Spanish team away from home in European competitions. The first time it happened was in the last season at this exact stage of the Champions League when they faced Valencia, beating them 4-3.
- Real Madrid have won 11 of their last 12 games against Italian opposition in the UEFA Champions League. They have scored at least two goals in ten of these fixtures.
- Atalanta are currently on the longest winning streak away from home in the UEFA Champions League, having won each of their last five games on the road.
- Real Madrid are without a win in their last four home games in the knockout stages of the Champions League (D1 L3), losing their last two such matches against Ajax and Manchester City.
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Time and again when Real Madrid have found themselves in a difficult situation, the Frenchman has risen to the occasion to bail them out. That quality of his was on display once again this past weekend as he scored two late goals to lead his side to a 2-1 comeback win over Elche.
With no Eden Hazard or Casemiro, Real Madrid will already be at some disadvantage on Tuesday against Atalanta. So, it becomes imperative that they be clinical in front of goal and take any opportunity that comes their way in order to expand their slender one-goal advantage.
And for that to happen, Zidane will look up to his ace goalscorer Benzema. Since returning from his injury layoff, the 33-year-old has scored thrice in two games and will be hoping to build on that against Atalanta.
Real Madrid 2-1 Atalanta
Atalanta have been in terrific form away from home and are known for their free-scoring nature. But Real Madrid showed in the first leg that they have what it takes to stifle the Italians. Even though Casemiro’s absence will be a blow, the return of Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema has been a huge boost.
Add to it, the Frenchman’s form in front of goal, Los Blancos should have just about enough to see off the challenge from the Serie A overachievers and make it through to the Champions League quarterfinals.