Atalanta’s Champions League last 16 first-leg tie ended in disappointment at the Gewiss Stadium on Wednesday night, as an under-strength Real Madrid secured a narrow 1-0 win in Bergamo.
After being reduced to 10 men midway through the first-half, an impressive defensive display from the Nerazzurri looked to have secured a crucial goalless draw, but Ferland Mendy hit a late winner for Los Blancos.
The 13-time winners arrived in Bergamo without a number of key players, as injuries deprived them of Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos, and Marcelo among others, but it was La Dea suffering issues with personnel.
Just 17 minutes into the encounter, Remo Freuler halted the forward advances of match-winner Mendy outside the hosts’ box, and was surprisingly shown a straight red card from referee Tobias Stieler.
Competing in their 100th Champions League knockout fixture, the numerical advantage was not going to force the reigning Spanish champions to throw caution to the wind, continuing to control possession and delicately probe the Atalanta rearguard.
In fact, it was defender Nacho, bursting into the box between two Nerazzurri players that brought the first clear sight on goal for either side, but the 31-year-old sent his effort well wide of the goal.
Thirty minutes into the game another setback befell the hosts, as striker Duvan Zapata trudged off the pitch through injury and was replaced by Mario Pasalic. Although coach Gian Piero Gasperini was clearly considering a reshuffle, the Colombian’s departure made things increasingly more difficult.
With Los Blancos dominating, they nearly took the lead in first half injury-time, but Pierluigi Gollini made an instinctive point-blank save from Casemiro, as the Brazilian met a Toni Kross set-piece just yards from goal.
The second period followed much the same pattern as the first, with Real Madrid restricted to passing the ball amongst themselves, having the odd speculative effort on goal and La Dea tentatively attacking when the opportunity arose, as anxiety seemed to get the better of both sides.
On 87 minutes, though, came the moment Atalantini were dreading, as Mendy found himself unmarked on the edge of the box and able to send a wonderful curling effort past a helpless Gollini.
Atalanta will now be hoping that, with 11 men and a one-goal deficit, when the two sides meet again in the Spanish capital in two weeks’ time, they are still more than capable of progressing to the quarter-finals.