Okay, no more hiccups in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League. No more heavy hearts. Enough of all those harsh critics. Enough of the past. It is always better to move on and back what we have at present and improve. Of course, the great Zinedine Zidane has been doing such in his second stint, and whatever the situation is – he is helping the Los Blancos pass through the troubled sea.
— Karim Benzema (@Benzema) March 16, 2021
Led by the pace and skill of Vinicius Junior, the outstanding command over the ball in the midfield of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the leadership of Ramos and the finishing of Karim Benzema Real Madrid progressed to the Champions League quarterfinals on a windy night at Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium for the first time in three seasons with a 3-1 win over Atalanta in the second leg of their last 16-tie.
After suffering defeat at this stage to Ajax and Manchester City in previous campaigns, the 13-time European champions go through 4-1 on aggregate.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 16, 2021
Zinedine Zidane chose to stick with the system of three center-backs that he trialed for an hour against Elche on Saturday, while Luka Modric and Toni Kroos started in midfield.
Vinicius Junior was the surprise selection in Zidane’s starting line-up but he repaid his coach’s faith with an outstanding performance.
The at the back, Nacho Fernandez understands Zidane’s formation better than anybody and contributed both in defence and attack – another Los Blancos who is heavily underrated and deserves the accolade for immense contribution in Zidane’s new formation.
It was Atalanta who came close to scoring and it might have been different if they scored first.
Real Madrid have not been eliminated from the Champions League with Sergio Ramos in the lineup since 2015 🍵 pic.twitter.com/eT3Qmsxuht
— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 16, 2021
Luis Muriel pulled back to Robin Gosens but with a weak wave of the foot on the edge of the six-yard box, his shot went straight at Thibaut Courtois.
Real Madrid – shaky at the start – discovered themselves at the back foot with Ramos having to stick in a toe as Muriel slipped the ball through for Mario Pasalic, Cristian Romero seeing a volley blocked and Berat Djimsiti’s effort going over – Courtois kicking the ball straight out of play, was at least the sensible thing to do – and how Marco Sportiello would wish he had followed suit at the other end.
And that was it – the Los Blancos started to regain their mojo and take full control over the match.
Luka Modric vs. Atalanta:
92% pass accuracy
109 touches (most)
16 ball recoveries (most)
5 interceptions (most)
4 duels won
1 chance created
The Player of the Match pic.twitter.com/tMIawy3gF5
— cricketsoccer (@cricketsoccer) March 17, 2021
The leader was the brilliant Modric.
The marvelous Croatian made sure that Real Madrid does not lose the upper hand in the midfield and along with his partner – Kroos, Modric broke the lines of Atalanta, essayed silky passes, produced moments and it was his night to remember.
Modric had a great influence on the game. He pounced on Marco Sportiello’s error to set Benzema up for the first goal to set the hosts on their way.
Upfront – the velocity and dribbling skill of Vinicius Junior broke the resistance of the Italians and with the progression of time, it vanished. The Brazilian kid is more often criticized for not scoring but his critics would realize that in football everything is not about scoring rather, skills can create a huge impact.
Madrid might have scored when Vinicius and Benzema combined, only for Djimsiti to dive in front of the Brazilian. His pace was too much for Rafael Toloi.
Sportiello hit the ball straight at Modric.
The pass was dreadful, the control superb, and Benzema was in support to put Madrid ahead.
Karim Benzema for Real Madrid:
⚽️ More goals than Puskas
🎯 More assists than Zidane
🏆 More trophies than C. Ronaldo
Does he deserve a statue outside the Bernabéu? pic.twitter.com/usGvYVe6cJ
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 16, 2021
While Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe make the headlines, Benzema keeps scoring. The striker has 21 goals in all competitions this season, including five in the Champions League. In fact, after goals against Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter, and now Atalanta, he’s just one behind Raul’s tally of 71 in the competition.
The visitors were denied what might have been another when Muriel was found just outside the area only for the chance to be curtailed by the clock and the referee’s whistle for the break, which arrived bang on time.
Vinicius Júnior vs Atalanta
1 penalty won
90% pass accuracy
1 key pass
4 successful dribbles
1 interception pic.twitter.com/GT7Fxxq5tX
— cricketsoccer (@cricketsoccer) March 17, 2021
After the break Vinicius had almost scored the glorious second, evading defenders only to nudge fractionally wide. And if that run did not yield a goal, the next one did Ilicic lost possession and Vinicius was away again, Rafael Toloi bringing him down as he headed into the area. From the spot, Ramos scored his 20th consecutive penalty for Madrid.
The tie should’ve been wrapped up not long afterward, with Benzema hitting first Sportiello and then the post when he connected with Lucas Vazquez’s cross.
Never doubt Zinedine Zidane. pic.twitter.com/JATuQiGoEa
— TC. (@totalcristiano) March 16, 2021
Now needing three goals to go through, Atalanta sought to find a way past Courtois, but the Belgian stood firm for two strikes from Duvan Zapata.
The Italians awoke late – Muriel bending in a brilliant free-kick but the substitute Marco Asensio beating Sportiello at his near post to net a third for the host and ensured that the night belonged to Real Madrid.
The Los Blancos are back in the quarterfinals!