Real Madrid take a 1-0 lead back to Spain in their last 16 tie against Atalanta, but there is still a lot to play for. Ferland Mendy’s goal and the red card for Remo Freuler are the main talking points from this first leg, but there is a lot more to discuss apart from that. Here comes a look at the questions that have been answered and those that have just been created.
1. Would Isco start and where would he play?
Over the course of Wednesday, the idea of Isco playing as a false No.9 started to come out. Would it prove to be true? Well, sort of. Isco started instead of Mariano and was given a license to roam. It wasn’t quite a false No.9 role as we’ve come to know it, but Isco was the leader of the Real Madrid attack, at the same time as being the link between Kroos and Modrić and the other attackers. Isco did well in this role, involved in the best opportunities of the first half and in the piece of play that led to the Freuler red card. Just like in the first leg against Manchester City last year, Isco reminded us that he still has football in his boots.
2. How would Nacho and Varane do without Ramos?
In the absence of Sergio Ramos, Nacho and Raphaël Varane have formed the central defensive partnership in recent weeks and they’ve been doing well. But, how would they do in the Champions League? We know how much Real Madrid have struggled in this competition of late without Ramos, but they were able to enjoy a calm defensive night in this game. Nacho and Varane did well, Nacho especially. While it’s true that the red card played a role too, it’s impressive that Atalanta didn’t manage a single shot on target in this game.
3. Would Casemiro collect a suspension?
Coming in to this game, there was just one Real Madrid player at risk of picking up a yellow card accumulation suspension. That player was Casemiro, who did end up collecting the booking that will rule him out of the second leg. There was even a moment in the second half when it looked like Casemiro might be shown a second yellow on the night for a supposed dive in the area, but in the end the referee only gave the Brazilian a talking to. This means, then, that Casemiro is out for the second game against Atalanta, but after that he’ll have his slate wiped clean. We know from the Ramos experience against Ajax a couple of years ago that nothing can be taken for granted, but maybe this is a good game for Casemiro to miss. Better than a quarter-final or semi-final.
1. Is Mendy better with his right foot than his left?
The match-winner was Ferland Mendy, who scored a brilliant goal from outside the box with his right foot. As we’ve seen more and more in recent weeks, Mendy likes to hit them with his right. Why? As a left-footed left-back, why has he been shooting so much with his right foot? Well, Zidane offered a theory in his post-match press conference. The coach suggested: “I think he actually sometimes manages to his it with more power with his right. He’s more accurate with his left, but maybe stronger with his right.”
2. Was it a red? And how did it change the game?
The red card for Freuler in the 17th minute was a huge decision and one of the main talking points of this match. So, was it the correct decision? Well, it’s very debatable. When Freuler takes down Mendy, the ball is skidding away from goal. What matters, though, is that the referee thought it was enough of a clear goalscoring opportunity to show the red card. From there, it changed the game stylistically. Real Madrid actually seemed to struggle more after the red card because Atalanta went completely defensive, even more so after the Duván Zapata injury. Gian Piero Gasperini’s biggest frustration after the game seemed to be about this, about the fact that Atalanta couldn’t play the style of football they usually like to.
3. Will Vinícius ever take his chances?
I think we’re all waiting for the day when Vinícius starts to finish his chances. But, it wasn’t today. We’re still waiting. This was not his night as he failed to make the most of a great Isco pass in the first half and as he couldn’t finish from the six-yard line in the second half. They were two big chances and Vinícius fluffed his lines both times. This saw Zidane bring him off after just 57 minutes, much earlier than he usually makes his first substitution. So, when will Vinícius start to take his chances?