Real Madrid vs Atalanta | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
The first leg of this tie was a big anti-climax after a 17th minute red card for Atalanta’s Remo Freuler turned what we anticipated to be an open attacking pursuit of maximising home advantage in to a “keep the qualifications hopes alive” for another crack in Madrid.
However, this second leg has the potential to be as talked about as when Oprah invited Meghan round for a chat in her back garden.
The thirteen-time European champions have been more than a little underwhelming this season – although quite often still getting the job done – six points adrift of cross city rivals Atletico in La Liga, albeit the closest challengers and needing a win over Borussia Monchengladbach in the final group game to scrape in to this stage of the competition albeit as group winners.
It took Los Blancos 69 minutes with that one-man advantage to finally break down their Italian opponents at the Gewiss Stadium and even then, it took a long-range strike from left back Ferland Mendy rather than a well-crafted move slicing their opponents apart.
I feel that positive result may actually leave them a little caught between two stools here which could lead to their downfall.
Le Dea know they have to score to keep their UCL dreams alive and they will have the utmost confidence in their ability to do just that, in a way the game situation could well lead to them having to play to their greatest strength – attacking.
Only league leaders AC Milan have scored more Serie A goals (65) this term than Atalanta’s 63 from their 27 games played, and have lost just twice when on the road – even more crucially they take a perfect UCL away record in to this game at Alfredo de Stefano.
Three ‘wins to nil' is mightily impressive and although the 4-0 win at FC Midtjylland was possibly expected – winning 2-0 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Ajax are more than fair achievements.
Strangely, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side failed to register a win in the reverse fixtures at their own stadium a run which of course continued in the first leg against Real – so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that defeat and it certainly adds to the intrigue as we wait to see if they can also extend that fantastic away record in the competition.
Given how this tie is set up I have two selections along a similar line of thought – based off the stats listed above.
If Zinedine Zidane’s men do start this game sluggishly in the knowledge a draw is good enough for them to progress, a goal for the visitors will really open the tie up, raising their confidence in the process and I certainly can’t see them then taking their foot off the gas knowing the game is there for the taking.
The question is more likely to be if the hosts can lift their own game – although the first goal is therefore crucial an early strike from Madrid, doesn’t massively change the Italians game plan – knowing they will still need two goals to progress, just as they did at kick off.
If Atalanta are on it – I feel this Real side, who have conceded in each of their last three games, may struggle to contain them.
Let’s look at the roll call of sides who have already visited Alfredo de Stefano this season and emerged victorious – Cadiz, Alaves and Levante in La Liga with Shakhtar Donetsk claiming three points in the UCL group stage – with all respect to those sides, not exactly the crème de la crème of European footballing heavy weights.
Therefore, the 3/1 on offer for Atalanta to qualify looks a cracking price. As mentioned earlier, a goal either way opens this one up beautifully so I am happy to also play Over 2.5 Goals with Both Teams To Score at odds of 21/20 with Bet 365’s Bet Builder.
The only thing Zidane could point to in defence of that first leg performance was that his side were shorn of nine first team players – with two very key members of his squad making a timely recovery from injury to take their place in the starting eleven here – although the absence of the suspended Casemiro will redress the balance to some degree.
The two men to which I refer are inspirational club captain Sergio Ramos, who made his comeback playing 61 minutes of Saturday's 2-1 win over Elche, taking his place in a back three after spending over a month out with a knee injury and arguably more importantly Karim Benzema.
The 33-year-old former French international has made himself indispensable to Los Blancos with five goals over his last four starts either side of a three-game injury absence during which time his side looked completely toothless.
Those five goals helped Los Blancos to three victories and one draw – he recorded a brace in that aforementioned win on Saturday with his winning strike coming in the 91st minute.
Given this is Real Madrid we are talking about I really do want to end this preview with one bet that keeps them onside – so while Benzema is in the midst of a purple patch, I’m happy to take odds against (6/4 with SBK) about him adding to his tally of four goals from as many starts in this season’s competition.
Real Madrid vs Atalanta – Atalanta to qualify (3/1 Bet Victor)
Real Madrid vs Atalanta – Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score (21/20 Bet 365)
Real Madrid vs Atalanta – Karim Benzema to score (11/8 SBK)