Real Madrid secured their passage to the Champions League quarter-finals with a routine win over Serie A side Atalanta, as Zinedine Zidane showed why he still relies on his old guard to lead this team.
The French manager has been under pressure at several different points of the season so far for under performing domestically in La Liga and also in Europe, but has stuck with his relatively older squad and it is now beginning to come good for him towards the business end of the season.
Goals from Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and substitute Marcos Asensio were enough on the night for a 3-1 win, with Luis Muriel scoring a screamer of a free-kick as a consolation for Atalanta.
With Benzema 33 now, Ramos 34, Luka Modric 35 and Toni Kroos 31, the Madrid core is entering it’s twilight. Despite tha though, they are still oozing quality and are justifying Zidane’s decision to stick with them even through the tough times.
The manager has had to contend with a host of injury problems, including £100m Eden Hazard who has made only 14 appearances in all competitions so far this campaign. The Belgian was missing once again for this tie after picking up another injury, with Spanish media now speculating he could miss the Euros this summer.
Despite that, Zizou has largely stuck with older core where he can and Los Blancos are now reaping the rewards at the business end of the season.
Real Madrid have now won eight of their last 11 games in all competitions and are unbeaten in their last nine. That has seen them close the gap on local rivals Atletico Madrid to just six points with all three contenders having played the same amount of games and still needing to face each other.
While they’re not the favourites in the title race or in the Champions League, their experience and quality when it comes to winning big games cannot go unnoticed. Much of this squad was part of the side that won three Champions League titles in a row and they all were part of the squad that went on a big run post-lockdown last season to win the title.
It’s fair to say that the better teams won’t fear drawing Real Madrid in Friday’s draw, nobody will be clamouring to face them either. Over two legs they’re still incredibly tough to beat and they have the attacking quality to break even the best teams down too.
With the know how of the squad, and the manager, they’re a side to keep an eye on – which is crazy to say about a team as hugely successful as Real Madrid have been in the past.
Nobody can or will take them lightly and they will have the self-confidence that they can beat anyone, so don’t rule them out of doing something crazy like winning a trophy or two come the end of the season.