SPAIN: The record 13-time European Cup winners are more bark than bite these days, especially with Benzema on the sidelines.
In a match that was largely low on quality, it was a standout moment of brilliance that eventually gave Real Madrid a narrow 1-0 win over 10-man Atalanta in the Champions League round of 16.
Full back Ferland Mendy broke the deadlock with only four minutes remaining with a delightful goal from outside the area, after Real had put Atalanta under relentless pressure following Remo Freuler’s early sending off.
Atalanta defended resolutely after going down to 10 men with only 17 minutes on the clock and limited Real to only a handful of half-chances for the remainder of the match.
However, Real’s dominance eventually paid off as Mendy curled home a fabulous strike to give Zinedine Zidane’s side a crucial away goal ahead of the return leg in Madrid on March 16.
Zidane will be delighted with a 1-0 triumph on the road which gives his team a fine chance of progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals, but a more clinical Madrid would have sewn this up in the first half.
Their problems with injuries have certainly contributed. With Zidane’s squad thinning ever further, he only had one first-team outfield player on his bench, the lesser-spotted Mariano Diaz, while out-of-favour Isco was parachuted in to play as a false nine.
The Spain international’s last start came in January’s Copa del Rey defeat by Alcoyano, while his previous one was the 4-1 thrashing by Valencia in November.
Madrid’s entire XI in Italy had a paltry three goals in the competition this season between them at kick-off. Mendy left it late to make that four.
A great chance, then, it seemed for the outsiders from Bergamo, but the officials quickly set back the hosts, who were reduced to 10 men in the 17th minute after Remo Freuler was harshly dismissed for a foul on the advancing Mendy.