Atalanta vs Real Madrid Tips | Wednesday 24th February 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
If you would have told someone five years ago Atalanta would be hosting Real Madrid in the knockout stages of the Champions League AND be favouites they would have spat their Bergamo coffee shop double espresso out in your face – saying there was more chance of the 2021 global pandemic you mentioned earlier happening!
But here we are – sadly behind Gewiss Stadium closed doors – every neutrals UCL darlings of last season taking on the 13 times Champions League winners.
This represents a massive opportunity for Gian Piero Gasperini and his team, with Karim Benzema adding his name to an already lengthy absentee list for Los Blancos that includes Eden Hazard, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and arguably most importantly their on field leader Sergio Ramos.
After a goalless first leg, Le Dea recently dispatched Napoli 3-1 at this stadium to secure a place in this seasons Coppa Italia and to show it was no fluke, swept aside the same opponents 4-2 this weekend to climb to fifth in Serie A.
The Italians are in formidable form at home, covering the –1 handicap in seven of their last eight wins in their own stadium, while scoring three or more goals in four of their last five competitive fixtures here and in nine of the last eleven.
Atalanta also faced Spanish opposition at this stage of the competition last season effectively putting the tie to bed in the first leg with a 4-1 win, but not letting up when visiting the Mestalla, scoring four more in a seven-goal thriller and securing an 8-4 aggregate win over Valencia.
The last time Zinedine Zidane took his side on the road in this competition it ended in a 2-0 reversal at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk – a result which left even UCL qualification to this round hanging by a thread and although an impressive win over Inter Milan (who remember finished bottom of the group) was sandwiched in the middle, it took goals on 87 and 90+3 to salvage a point from their opening group away day in Germany.
Having already seen defeats for Barcelona, Sevilla and cross city rivals Atletico, Real will not be relishing this trip to northern Italy and I’m taking a poor UCL round of 16 for Spanish sides to continue.
As much as I was tempted by playing an Atalanta win with both teams to score or over 2.5 match goals – the way they went about their work in that first leg in Naples put an element of doubt in my mind – they may not approach this tie with the abandon demonstrated last campaign – so I am happy to take the 11/8 on offer from William Hill for a straight home win.
There is a possibility Zidane may even be happy to take a narrow defeat back to the Alfredo di Stefano too. With those aforementioned big names missing for the visitors there will be added expectation on the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric but one player for me who seems to step up when it’s really needed is their midfield partner Casemiro.
In the absence of the injured Benzema, Madrid’s forward line of Vinicius Junior, Mariano and Marco Asensio looked very lightweight in the weekend visit to Valladolid, mustering just three shots between them without one on target, with all three players triple subbed off in the 66th minute.
It was left to Casemiro to come up clutch to secure his team the victory when they were lacking firepower from players higher up the pitch, meaning he will head into this UCL match in solid form to take advantage of a team known for leaving attacking gaps.
That was the 29-year-old Brazilian’s fifth La Liga goal from his 19th start and he was also the man responsible for the aforementioned 93rd minute UCL group stage equaliser at Borussia Park – a return of six goals from 23 starts is none too shabby for a player classified as a defensive midfielder.
We are being given a 14% probability of a Casemiro goal with Unibet’s odds of 6/1 and that looks a little bit of value for a player who has scored in 26% of games he has started.
Finally, I always try to find a little loose change bet and with Casemiro's fondness for collecting a card – eight from 19 starts in La Liga, two from four in this competition – using Bet365’s Bet Builder option we can put together that he gets both a goal and a card at 14/1.
He has actually been booked in three of those six games where he has found the net – and although a caution here will mean missing the return leg, I can’t see him holding back.
Atalanta vs Real Madrid – Atalanta to win (11/8 William Hill)
Atalanta vs Real Madrid – Casemiro to score (6/1 Unibet)
Atalanta vs Real Madrid – Casemiro to score at anytime and be booked (14/1 Bet365)