Karim Benzema scored his fifth Champions League goal of the season, Sergio Ramos found the net from the penalty spot and Marco Asensio sealed the win late on as Real Madrid beat Atalanta 3-1 to progress 4-1 on aggregate and into the competition’s quarterfinals.
The visitors started well and Thibaut Courtois was forced to make an early save on Robin Gosens. Vinicius Junior had a shot blocked after an inspired exchange of passes with Benzema before the French striker opened the scoring after Atalanta goalkeeper Marco Sportiello‘s clearance fell straight to Luka Modric.
Vinicius went close again after half-time, dribbling through the Atalanta defence before miss from in close, but then redeemed himself by winning a penalty which was converted by captain Ramos. Luis Muriel scored a consolation with a brilliant free kick, but substitute Marco Asensio answered a minute later, securing the win and pushing Madrid into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2018.
Real Madrid had been knocked out in the Champions League at the Round-of-16 stage two years running — by a thrilling young Ajax side in 2019, and by Manchester City in a tie that spanned six months in 2020 — and were desperate to avoid the same fate this time. Their European form this year had been patchy, too, with home and away defeats to Shakhtar Donetsk putting coach Zinedine Zidane under serious pressure earlier in the campaign, so this result was by no means guaranteed.
The performance wasn’t perfect, but there were more than enough highlights, notably an always exciting, occasionally frustrating display from Vinicius, while veterans Benzema, Ramos, and Modric all delivered. Madrid won’t go into the quarterfinals among the tournament favourites, but no team will be keen to face them, either.
Madrid were outplayed by Atalanta early on, finding it difficult to cope with coach Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-energy, man-to-man pressing game. Defenders Raphael Varane, Nacho, and Ramos were all pressured into making mistakes, and it looked like being a long night for the home side before Benzema’s goal gave them a cushion.
The absence of the irreplaceable Casemiro was a concern ahead of kick-off — Real Madrid had lost two of their last three European matches in which the Brazilian midfielder didn’t start — and there’s no doubt they look more vulnerable without him.
Manager rating out of 10
7– Zidane stuck with a three-at-the-back system which hadn’t exactly impressed against Elche in La Liga at the weekend, with Nacho joining Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in defence, and Lucas Vazquez and Ferland Mendy as wing-backs. Once again, it didn’t always work particularly well, but once again Zidane got the result, so it’s hard to be overcritical.
The side improved as the evening went on, and the selection of Vinicius proved to be absolutely the right call when many others would have opted for Rodrygo or Asensio.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — Atalanta’s pressing meant Courtois was frequently called into action to move the ball on quickly with his feet in the first half, which isn’t his greatest strength. Made two good second-half saves on Duvan Zapata.
DF Lucas Vazquez, 7 — Madrid’s right-hand side was targeted by Atalanta in the first half and Vazquez suffered as a result, with the Italian side attacking the space behind the wing-back. His second half was much better, one cross seeing Benzema hit the woodwork and then he set up Asensio for his goal.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 — Lost possession early on to give Atalanta their first chance of the game and was often left exposed by Vazquez. Improved with the team later.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 — Forced his return from knee surgery with this game in mind and made an important early challenge on Mario Pasalic. Took his penalty really well for his 15th Champions League goal before being taken off as a precaution with half an hour left.
DF Nacho, 7 — Played on the left of the back three and put in a typically solid display. Picked up a yellow card.
DF Ferland Mendy, 7 — Combined brilliantly with Karim Benzema in the first half, and again with Vinicius in the second to play the winger in on goal. His attacking contributions are becoming increasingly common.
MF Federico Valverde, 6 — Played on the right of midfield, rather than filling in for Casemiro in the middle, and was given a hard time by Pasalic in the first half. Displayed his trademark high energy levels, but never quite got into the game.
MF Luka Modric, 8 — A superb assist for Benzema, getting every decision right after being given the ball by keeper Sportiello and impressed all night.
FW Vinicius Junior, 8 — One of his most exciting games this season. One first-half run ended with his cross being headed away. Another saw him take an extra touch after playing a one-two with Benzema. A third was the best of the lot, starting in his own half and ending up in on goal before shooting wide when he should have scored. Then got back up and won the penalty. Encouraging.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 — In supreme form with six goals now in his last five games. Had a first-half shot blocked and then played a beautiful pass to create an excellent chance for Vinicius. Took the goal well and was later denied by the keeper and the post with his head.
DF Eder Militao, 6 — Replaced Ramos and didn’t cause any problems at the back.
FW Rodrygo, 6 — Came on for Vinicius with the game already won.
FW Marco Asensio, NR — Played the last 10 minutes and took his goal really well with a low drive inside the near post.