It’s Champions League time once again as the last 16 is back and the second round of fixtures commences.
Last week we saw the first eight teams compete, with some thrilling fixtures to take us through to the second leg and this week we’ll be hoping for more of the same – starting with Europe’s great entertainers Atalanta as they take on record winners Real Madrid.
The Serie A side currently sit in fifth place in the table, just six points behind second placed AC Milan and come into the game in great form having won their last three games in a row. As for Real Madrid, they’ve managed to significantly close the gap at the top of La Liga but sit six points behind Atletico Madrid in second place as they look to defend their title.
It’s been a tough season for Zinedine Zidane’s side as they’ve been forced to compete with inconsistent form, constant injury problems and several COVID-19 breakouts throughout the campaign. Madrid’s group stages saw them on the verge of elimination at that stage for the first time ever, only for a final day win over Borussia Moenchengladbach to be enough to see both teams through after Inter Milan drew with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Atalanta have been their usual entertaining selves throughout the campaign, scoring 72 goals so far this season including 53 in Serie A – topped only by league leaders Inter. In the group stages of this competition, they were able to navigate a group including Liverpool and Ajax – beating both teams away from home.
Coming into this tie, the Italians will never have a better chance of beating the Spanish giants. Madrid have just 11 senior first-team players available for the first leg – meaning they’re without all of Sergio Ramos, Eder Militao, Alvardo Odriozola, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Federico Valverde, Rodrygo, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema.
With Atalanta only missing Hans Hateboer, they’d be crazy not to go for the kill in the first leg and try and put the tie to bed early. They have the goalscoring capabilities to do so, having score three goals in five of their last eight fixtures and beyond Madrid’s starting eleven they should be able to hold off any threat.
Madrid’s lineup is essentially known prior to kick-off because of their injuries and they’ll have to play in a way that their team maintain discipline and ensure they’re careful about letting the game get away from them. They still have their best midfield out, so have the ability to control a game but the inconsistency of their attack means it’s going to be incredibly difficult to see them score a goal, never mind win the game.
With a three week break between the two legs, Madrid will be hopeful of having some of those players return from injury to bolster their squad. With that said Atalanta’s away record in the competition is exceptional having won every game and conceded no goals and their fast-paced, attacking style could be key to that.
It’s so hard to see Real Madrid keeping a clean sheet even if a few of those players do return to the team by the time the second leg comes round and I think this will be the big shock of the round.
Atalanta 2-0 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 1-3 Atalanta
(Atalanta to progress, 5-1 on aggregate)