Sports Desk, Feb 23 (efe-epa).- Real Madrid seek to regain character in a historic first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 against Italian side Atalanta, who want to prolong their second stint in the Champions League.
The Spanish powerhouse — which has won a record 13 titles at Europe’s top-tier club competition — has been unable to make it past last-16 in the last two seasons of the Champions League.
Adding to the challenge is the fact they must break this curse without the help of the team’s top-scorer, Karim Benzema, who is ineligible through injury.
Joining the Frenchman on the sidelines is a long list of players including Eden Hazard, Fede Valverde, Rodrygo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Militao, Dani Carvajal and Álvaro Odriozola.
With up to six second-team players in the squad, Real Madrid has to secure a ticket to the quarterfinal against an Atalanta side that has been on a three-match winning streak, including two big victories over Napoli.
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini, however, downplayed the potential impact of such absences on Real Madrid, which has won its last four La Liga games.
“I have never thought that Madrid is vulnerable. In the Champions, it transforms. For example, in Milan against Inter, they played a game of great quality and personality.
“They managed to win games consecutively in a difficult moment due to absences. I think that for these reasons, tomorrow will be a difficult match to interpret,” he added.
Elsewhere, formidable Manchester City will hope to make a statement against Borussia Monchengladbach, having put the Premier League title out of their opponent’s reach, at least for now.
Leading their cross-town rivals and closest chaser Manchester United by 10 points, City will seek to extend their 18-match winning streak across all competitions with a fully fit first-team except for Dutch defender Nathan Ake.