Atalanta v Real Madrid: Injury-hit Spaniards to be opposed

Atalanta meet Real Madrid for an attractive Champions League Last 16 first leg showdown from Bergamo on Wednesday night. Mark O'Haire shares his favourite fancy.

Atalanta impress in 4-2 thriller

Atalanta warmed up for their historic Champions League knockout clash in Bergamo with a thrilling 4-2 victory over Napoli on Sunday evening. With Josip Ilicic rested, Luis Muriel took his opportunity superbly, netting a fantastic solo strike, and helping to create others alongside the ever-impressive Duvan Zapata in La Dea's probing and penetrative attack.

Post-match, attention quickly turned towards Wednesday night's contest and head coach Gian Piero Gasperini was asked if he will go more defensive against the 13-time European champions, but seemed to suggest it'll be the usual Nerazzurri approach. He said: "It's fundamental that we score goals against them, that's the main thing."

Speculation now resides over Gasperini's team selection with Ilicic potentially missing out on the first XI following Muriel's weekend efforts. Hans Hateboer is the only confirmed absentee for the Italians with Joakim Maehle and Robin Gosens set to continue in Atalanta's wing-back positions. The hosts will set-up in their tried-and-trusted 4-3-1-2 system.

Madrid back in title hunt

Real Madrid cut the gap between themselves and La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid to three points on Saturday as they secured a vital narrow 1-0 win away at Real Valladolid. Los Blancos struggled to make any attacking inroads against an organised home defence in the early stages, as they failed to register a single attempt on target before the break.

However, Brazilian international Casemiro made the key impact on 65 minutes, after the midfielder wasted two gilt edged chances either side of the restart. The capital club were unable to create a chance for a second goal in the closing minutes as they squeezed over the line for an important three points in the battle to defend their domestic title.

Zinedine Zidane's team are currently battling a growing injury crisis and the French legend suggested star striker Karim Benzema could miss out again in midweek. Mariano Diaz started as a central striker against Valladolid, alongside Marco Asensio and Vinicius Junior. Real are without Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos, Daniel Carvajal and Rodrygo amongst others.

La Dea favourites in Bergamo

This is the first competitive encounter between Atalanta and Real Madrid. In fact, Atalanta's only previous meeting with a Spanish side in European competition was in last season's round of 16 when they faced Valencia - the Bergamo boys progressing with an eye-catching 8-4 aggregate triumph before being dispatched by PSG in the quarter-finals.

Atalanta 2.52 are the only remaining side to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League without a home victory in the group-stages (W0-D2-L1). Nevertheless, La Dea proved their potential with a deserved win at Anfield and Ajax, as well as recent triumphs against Napoli and Milan in Serie A.

Real Madrid 2.90 have won each of their last five Champions League away games against Italian opposition, notching in their past 19 against Serie A sides. Remarkably, Zinedine Zidane has prevailed as Los Blancos boss in 12 of his 13 Champions League knockout ties, with the only exception coming against Man City at this stage of last season's competition.

Injury-hit Spaniards to be opposed

None of Atalanta's 15 Champions League games has ended goalless. Since last season, La Dea's continental contests have produced a whopping 53 goals, at an average of 3.50 per-game. Domestically, the Bergamo outfit have posted 3.65 goals per-game as nine of 11 match-ups with top-half Serie A sides have paid out for Both Teams To Score 1.56 backers.

Real Madrid haven't proven quite as fruitful, particularly since Christmas, although Los Blancos' group games provided plenty of entertainment. Zinedine Zidane's charges scored twice or more in five of their six pool fixtures - including home and away ties with Inter Milan, whilst all six matches featured a minimum of two goals.

Goals are forecast but Madrid's injury issues have helped to nudge Atalanta into favouritism for the first leg and I'm happy to have the Italians onside. Entering the Asian Handicap market, the hosts can be supported at 1.86 with a 0-ball start - working in the same way as Draw No Bet, our stake will be returned as a push if the game ends all-square.

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