Atalanta 0-1 Real Madrid (Mendy). Late jubilation. Here is the immediate reaction. On the way: Player ratings, interviews and the LIVE post game zoom podcast.
There was a lot of talk about the team selection prior to this Champions League fixture, and despite the lack of players available - there still would have been some surprise faces from fans at first glance of the line-up. Mariano had clearly not impressed Zidane enough over his last few chances, meaning no natural striker was chosen to start. Instead, Isco was deployed as a ‘false nine’ to lead the team going forward. Once again, six Castilla players took their seats on the substitutes bench, with Antonio Blanco and Miguel Gutiérrez still awaiting their first team debuts.
✅ Our starting XI @Atalanta_BC! #UCL pic.twitter.com/Hjr4FicmyL— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) February 24, 2021
Real Madrid set out to wear the Atalanta press like a fancy hat. They moved the ball around really smoothly through and beyond danger, and earned the respect of the hosts within minutes. The sheer quality of the play was something that only the highest class of footballer can produce, and it was so satisfying to witness. The first chunk of real action came after another crisp passing sequence, as the one and two touch shifts from Real Madrid involving Luka Modrić, Vinícius Júnior and Ferland Mendy forced a huge opening for Mendy to charge into. He was about to be in on goal before he was clattered down, forcing the referee to produce a red card for the opposing defender. Strangely, other than a half chance through Vinícius after a good run, and a strong header from Casemiro met by a great save - the remainder of the first half was actually pretty muted. 0-0 at half time.
FERLAND MENDY. 86TH MINUTE. ON HIS WEAK FOOT. pic.twitter.com/oXAD7y8V9J— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) February 24, 2021
Real Madrid turned the heat up from the off in the second half in search for an advantage going in to the home leg. The team pushed forward and got very comfortable in the opposition half. It became a defensive exercise for Atalanta. Mariano was introduced to the game to try and secure the much needed goal, but still Madrid struggled to make and take a clear chance. Castilla double Hugo Duro and Sergio Arribas were then turned to, with Zidane hoping that they could provide a wildcard if nothing more. The hosts remained very stubborn and well organised, understanding that finishing this game with a draw would be a colossal success in the long run. Somehow, Madrid managed to finish the game with ten men. A poor dive from the already carded Casemiro was only deemed punishable with a good talking to by the referee. With just minutes to go, Los Blancos depended on another unlikely goal-scorer to save them. This time, Ferland Mendy popped up with a gorgeous weaker foot strike from outside of the box. This moment of magic was enough to earn Madrid the all important away win, but not without a hefty dose of frustration... What were your thoughts on the game? Let Kiyan and Om know on zoom at 6:30pm EST for the live post game podcast!