An almighty right-foot shot from Mendy near the end of the game sent Real Madrid back to us having recorded a win in Bergamo against Atalanta in the Champions League. And also did something to banish the feeling of pessimism we’d been feeling over the Spanish sides’ performances at this stage in the tournament. Madrid won and won well, shutting the game down, the wise thing to do against this Atalanta side’s love of frenetic football. With that aim, Zidane started with only Asensio and Vinicius in attack and popped Isco, who was solid, in the midfield. With that reinforcement the impeccable trio of Modric-Casemiro-Kroos controlled the match, installing Madrid in the opposition half and playing with majestic security. Kroos passed 138 times, 129 of them accurate.
Real Madrid helped by Atalanta red card
Of course Real Madrid were helped by a big slice of luck: the sending off of Freuler in the 18th minute. Mendy was haring down on goal - he’s been doing that a lot lately - and was brought down. Clear goal scoring opportunity? Yes, but no, not entirely. Possibly the referee, the German Tobias Stieler, who is still fairly new, was still thinking about the brutal challenge from Gollini on Vinicius, deliberately catching him on the thigh after clearing in the box. The referee swallowed the whistle on that one as we say in Spain to mean he did nothing and the indigestion pushed him to send Freuler off for the foul. Gasperini didn’t bring someone on for him. He didn’t take off a striker to put on another midfielder as he usually does.
Mendy got the winning goal
That appeared to reinforce Atalanta’s attacking intent, but Madrid dominated possession to such an extent that they only managed two shots, both off target. Courtois had a relaxed night. At the other end, Madrid had 18 shots, only four of which were at goal. They lacked precision (Vinicius wasted the two best, that’s the worst part of his game) but in the end they got their goal, a perfect hit from Mendy. The bad news is that Casemiro is out for the return leg, having picked up a booking. The good news is that a number of players will be back, including Benzema. The team won’t be in such a reduced state as it was in Bergamo, where the bench was stuffed with reserve team players from Real Madrid Castilla.