Several minutes into Real Madrid’s Champions League round of 16 second leg against Atalanta on Tuesday night, the visitors were presented with a great opportunity.
Making one of those inside to outside runs as he often does, Robin Gosens managed to latch onto the end of Luis Muriel’s cross. However, despite being just a few yards out, the German failed to make solid contact and his shot was easily batted away by Thibaut Courtois.
If this strike had gone in, the game might have gone a little differently. It didn’t though and in the end Gosens chance, spurned with less than 180 seconds on the clock, would be one of the only times that Atalanta seriously threatened during the 90 minutes.
This was as easy a night as Real could have hoped for. Gosens’ was not the only visiting player in a charitable mood. From front to back, Atalanta’s passing was atrocious. Their infamous high press was also feeble. To Zinedine Zidane’s credit, his decision to switch to a deep, mutating back five played a role in unsettling Atalanta out of possession, but individual misjudgment was important as well.
La Dea’s greatest gift of all to their hosts came in 34th minute. Marco Sportiello was the man at fault, aiming his pass straight down the gullet of Luka Modric. The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner then showed trademark composure to drive forward before pulling the ball back for Karim Benzema for an easy tap-in.
After the break, Atalanta continued to be their own worst enemy. Credit must go to Vinicius Junior for his direct running, but the Rafael Toloi challenge that brought him down in the box was sloth like in its laziness. After Sergio Ramos converted the resultant spot kick, Real’s place in the quarter finals was all but confirmed, although Luis Muriel and Marco Asensio would – in wonderfully Chris Eubank style – add some spice to the scoreline in the closing stages.
Do Real have much chance of progressing further than the last eight? In truth this Atalanta tie has not been very helpful in answering that question. Questions remain over Real’s defence, which more seasoned European campaigners would have surely taken advantage of on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, a frontline of Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez will not strike fear into most teams who remain in the hat.
Then again, this is Zinedine Zidane’s Real we’re talking about. Avoid one of the favourites in the quarter finals and the narrative gods might just do the rest.