Sportiello Mistake Paves Way for Real Madrid Hammering of Atalanta

Atalanta’s hopes for a Champions League comeback ended in a failed Marco Sportiello pass that propitiated Real Madrid’s opener on the half hour mark on Tuesday night. From then on, it was routine job for Real Madrid who wrapped a 3-1 win at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium to book their place into the Quarter Finals.

The Bergamaschi‘s task was already complicated after Ferland Mendy’s winner from two weeks ago at the Gewiss Stadium but their hopes plummeted after their goalkeeper’s mistake. Los Blancos smelled blood and were clinical to add a second and then a third in the second half, with Luis Muriel’s goal only serving the purpose of making the visitors’ defeat a bit narrower.

Atalanta’s Champions League dream thus ended once again, and Gian Piero Gasperini will need to fight hard domestically to grab a spot in the top European competition next season. Real Madrid, on the other hand, managed to show themselves among the Top Eight after a two-year gap – and that’s just what the Merengues needed in the middle of a tormented season.   

Zinedine Zidane lined up the Merengues with a 3-4-3 setup where Karim Benzema was supported by Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vasquez on the front line. Captain Sergio Ramos led a back three defense also featuring Nacho and Raphael Varane.

The first leg match-winner Ferlands Mendy was deployed as right wing-back, with Federico Valverde covering the other flank and Toni Kroos plus Luka Modric in the middle of the park.

Gian Piero Gasperini, on the other hand, opted for a lone striker in Luis Muriel with Mario Pasalic and Ruslan Malinovskyi supporting him from the back. Usual trequartista Matteo Pessina was moved back to midfield alongside Marten De Roon. The goalkeeper was Marco Sportiello, preferred once again to Pierluigi Gollini.  

Those expecting some sparkling football from two of the most offensive sides in Europe were left disappointed as the first half offered very few emotions, save for an early Robins Gosens shot that missed the target by a few inches and a Real Madrid breakaway that ended with a Vinicius conclusion blocked by Berat Djimsiti.

On 34 minutes, a single episode changed the game. Marco Sportiello received a comfortable back pass and seemed ready to put the ball back into play, but his throw in hit Luka Modric and the Croatian wasted no time to serve Karim Benzema all alone in the middle of the box.  The next thing Atalanta fans knew, they were down 0-1.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s move after the restart was enhancing his offensive power as he sent in Duvan Zapata for Mario Pasalic. However, it was Real Madrid to be in control as Vinicius caught a brilliant filtering pass and took the whole Atalanta defense for a ride before missing the final touch as the ball trotted past the end line.

Josip Ilicic for Robin Gosens was Gasperini’s next substitution, on 56 minutes, but the change didn’t have time to produce any effect as soon enough Real Madrid scored the second and got the qualification matter settled in their favor.

With Atalanta struggling to cope with Vinicius’ accelerations, Rafael Toloi had no choice but knocking the Brazilian starlet down on the edge of the box. Too bad that both the referee and the VAR saw the foul happening into the Nerazzurri area and allowed a penalty that captain Sergio Ramos converted with no hesitation.

Benzema went close to make it three but first Sportiello and then the post denied his double effort from a right-hand side cross, consequence of yet another counterattack for which Atalanta seemed to have no answer.

Luis Muriel’s winning free-kick on 82 minutes only served the purpose of saving the Bergamaschi’s pride – which, however, suffered another blow just two minutes later as Marcos Asensio pierced Sportiello on the near post after Lucas Vasquez slalomed in-between multiple Atalanta defenders to offer him an easy chance for a place into the scoresheet.  

The score wouldn’t change anymore despite one additional chance for each side, so nothing new at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. The European hierarchies were respected and certified that – unless Lazio pull off an unlikely miracle tomorrow night – there will be no Italian clubs in the Champions League Quarter Finals this season.



March 16, 2021 – Champions League 2020-21 Round of 16
REAL MADRID-ATALANTA 3-1 (Real Madrid advance 4-1 on aggregate)

SCORER: 34′ Benzema (R), 59′ Sergio Ramos (R, pen.), 82′ Muriel (A), 84′ Asensio (R)

REAL MADRID (3-4-3): Courtois; Varane, Sergio Ramos (64′ Militao), Nacho; Mendy, Kroos, Modric, Valverde (81′ Asensio); Vasquez, Vinicius (68′ Rodrygo), Benzema (Lunin, Isco, Altube, Hugo Duro, Marcelo) Coach: Zidane
ATALANTA (3-4-2-1): Sportiello; Toloi (61′ Palomino), Romero, Djimsiti; Maehle, De Roon, Pessina (83′ Caldara), Gosens (57′ Ilicic); Pasalic (46′ Zapata), Malinovskyi; Muriel (83′ Miranchuk) (Gollini, Rossi, Ghislandi, Lammers, Ruggeri) Coach: Gasperini

REFEREE: Makkelie (Netherlands)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Valverde, Mendy, Nacho, Kroos (R), Toloi (A); Extra Time: First Half 0′, Second Half 5′