Real Madrid can never be written off in the Champions League

If there is one thing Real Madrid can be relied upon to do it is to come up trumps in the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane’s can never be written off in Europe. Madrid kicked off their 2020-21 campaign with a disastrous result at home against Shakhtar and went into the final round of group stage fixtures in danger of going out only to finish top, which saw them into Pot 1 for the last 16 draw. It has been a roller-coaster group stage but Tuesday’s result in the Di Stéfano left both sides content after the draw between Inter and Shakhtar ensured Borussia Mönchengladbach joined Madrid in the knock-out stages and the Bundesliga side’s players celebrated in style. It was also Karim Benzema’s night, the Frenchman bagging both goals as he equalled Roberto Carlos’ record for the most Real Madrid appearances as a foreign player.

Madrid’s Jekyll and Hyde persona this season is hard to fathom. Zidane’s side alternate between losing games that on paper could be considered straightforward and convincingly winning matches that are theoretically more difficult. Is it a case of concentration? Possibly. But it could also be argued that what stumps Madrid is opening up more compact defences. They have hit a brick wall against well-organized back-lines because they lack the attacking tools to prise them open. Against sides of greater repute such as Barcelona, Inter, Sevilla and Mönchengladbach, things work out better. The German side are noted for their attacking merits (although they were absent on Tuesday) and a pliable defence. That was a bonus for Madrid, who aside from Benzema’s double had fine performances from Lucas Vázquez and Luka Modric to thank for the victory. Vázquez, in his role as an emergency full back, has made the right flank his own.

LaLiga sides complete last 16 clean sweep

Atlético Madrid also reached the group stages on a satisfying night for LaLiga. Diego Simeone’s side were also playing catch-up in the final round of games after three draws in matches that they probably deserved to win. On Tuesday, lady luck returned the favours she had withdrawn in those fixtures as Atlético beat Salzburg while playing comparatively poorly in the opening half hour and only marginally better in phases afterwards. But a thumping header from Mario Hermoso and a wonderful effort from Yannick Carrasco late on meant Atlético could return to Spain with qualification in the bag. With the group stage over four out of four Spanish sides are through to the last 16, a clean sweep, although unusually only Madrid managed to come out on top.