Atalanta 0-1 Real Madrid: Ferland Mendy spares Zinedine Zidane’s blushes as his superb late curler earns victory against 10-men hosts and swings balance of Champions League last-16 tie in their favour
- Atalanta had to play over 70 minutes of football with 10 men after Remo Freuler got sent off early on
- But Real Madrid struggled to make their numerical advantage count with chances few and far between
- Ferland Mendy rescued Madrid with a superb curling effort from long distance just four minutes from time
Ferland Mendy put Real Madrid within touching distance of the quarter-finals with a spectacular winner against 10-man Atalanta.
The Italians had Remo Freuler sent off harshly after just 17 minutes but a depleted Madrid looked like they would never score until the left back stepped forward with a right-footed goal that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of.
On nights like these Real Madrid used to rely on Ronaldo. Without him, and in the midst of an injury crisis that has deprived Zinedine Zidane of up to nine first team players, Mendy took responsibility and scored the away goal that makes Madrid favourites to reach the last eight.
Ferland Mendy came to Real Madrid’s rescue after striking a superb late curler to earn victory against Atalanta
The Real Madrid full-back brilliantly picked out the corner with a curling effort from outside the box with just minutes left
Atalanta had given themselves an uphill task when Remo Freuler got a straight red for a foul on Mendy in the 17th minute
The midfielder was deemed to have denied a clear scoring opportunity when he brought down Mendy on the edge of the box
Atalanta: Gollini, Toloi, Romero, Djimsiti, Maehle (Palomino 85), de Roon, Freuler, Gosens, Pessina, Zapata (Pasalic 30), Muriel (Ilicic 56) (Malinovsky 86)
Subs not used: Sutalo, Lammers, Caldara, Malinovsky, Rossi, Ruggeri, Sportiello, Miranchuk
Sent off: Freuler (17)
Real Madrid: Courtois, Lucas, Varane, Nacho, Mendy, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Asensio (Arribas 76), Isco (Duro 76), Vinicius Junior (Mariano 58)
Subs not used: Lunin, Altube, Blanco, Chust, Gutierrez
Scorers: Mendy (86)
Booked: Casemiro, Mendy
Referee: Tobias Stieler
Zidane smiled broadly from the touchline as the shot curled in low past Pierluigi Gollini. It was the coach who gambled on the signing of his compatriot in the summer.
Most at Madrid believed Sergio Reguilon should be brought back from his loan spell at Sevilla to become the club’s first choice left back but Zidane had other ideas and Reguilon went to Tottenham and Mendy arrived from Lyon.
The goal on 84 minutes was a long time coming. Freuler was sent off by Tobias Stieler after just 17 minutes for bringing down Mendy. The referee interpreted the foul as having prevented a goal-scoring opportunity. It was harsh in the extreme.
Madrid had been gifted a huge advantage and on a night when they played without a centre-forward and needed all the help they could get.
Casemiro came closest in the first half with a header from a Toni Kroos free-kick just before the break that keeper Gollini saved with his chest.
After the restart it was Vinicius who had the clearest chances to break the deadlock but finishing remains his weakness and when he put over the bar from six yards out Zidane turned to Mariano Diaz who replaced him on 57 minutes.
Atalanta had sat back with 10 men and Madrid had struggled to find a way through and on 76 minutes Isco and Marco Asensio made way for 19-year-old Sergio Arribas and 21-year-old Hugo Duro.
Still the deadlock could not be broken. Kroos tried his luck from distance but failed to hit the target and then Casemiro went down in the box claiming a penalty. The midfielder had gone down easily and when referee Stieler raced towards him it looked like a booking for diving would be shown.
In the end the caution never appeared. It would have been his second. Casemiro had already been booked in the first half and will miss the second leg. Madrid were now hanging balls up in the air towards Diaz but Marten de Roon had marshaled the undermanned defence brillianly and he kept Madrid at bay.
Atalanta were just four minutes from earning what would have been a deserved draw but it was Mendy’s surging run forward that brought about the first half red card, and it would be his piledriver that won the match for Zidane’s team.
Zinedine Zidane cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as Real Madrid struggled to fashion any clear-cut chances
Atalanta’s Robin Gosens had to comfort a disappointed Luis Muriel after the striker was sacrificed for false nine Josep Ilicic
Marco Asensio got his free-kick in the second half over the wall and on target but it was never troubling the goalkeeper
Fortunately for Zindane and Real Madrid, Mendy was on hand to come up with the good when they needed it most