Real Madrid progressed to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League with a 3-1 win over Atalanta at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano. Goals from Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio ensured Los Blancos won 4-1 on aggregate. Atalanta began the game on the front foot, looking the dominant side in the opening 15 minutes. Their pressing left Real Madrid with little room to breathe, but Los Blancos eventually settled.
Marco Sportiello undid all of La Dea’s good work with a terrible clearance that went straight to Luka Modric. The Croatian squared the ball to Karim Benzema, who rolled the ball into the net to make it 1-0 in the 34th minute. Vinicius Jr. had a great chance to make it 2-0 early in the second half, but he stabbed the ball wide after a stunning run. The Brazilian made amends soon after, winning a penalty which Sergio Ramos converted to double Real Madrid’s lead. Duvan Zapata and Karim Benzema came close for either side, with the Atalanta striker drawing a couple of excellent saves from Thibaut Courtois. Luis Muriel offered Atalanta a glimmer of hope in the 83rd minute, curling in a delicious free-kick.
Benzema was superb tonight and it was no surprise to see him score in his 5th consecutive game. Zinedine Zidane didn’t require his penchant for late goals this time, but he can be safe in the knowledge that in Benzema, he has a player as dependable in tough moments as Ronaldo. Maybe, just maybe, Karim Benzema will finally get his due. Atalanta’s reputation as UEFA Champions League entertainers is well earned – 10 goals in 6 group stage games points to a side that aren’t goal-shy. Yet over 180 minutes against a Real Madrid side that’s been fairly vulnerable in defense all season, the only goal Gian Piero Gasperini’s side scored came from a free-kick.
There were extenuating circumstances in the first leg, but overall Atalanta will have been disappointed not to have troubled Los Blancos much more. It’s difficult to fault Gasperini too much – their tactics were the same that has brought them success. The high press was the same, but Real Madrid’s technical caliber was such that they simply played around it once they settled. The three-man defense nullified Atalanta’s quick diagonals and wing play. It’s a step up Atalanta will need to make if they ever are to win silverware in this Gasperini era.