Atalanta’s Gasperini wary despite Real playing safe with injuries
23 Feb 2021
A Real Madrid training session in progress ahead of their Champions League match against Atalanta on Wednesday.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says he is not willing to risk players when his team visit Atalanta in the Champions League last 16 amid a growing injury list.
Top-scorer Karim Benzema was one of nine Real players to miss Saturday’s 1-0 win at Real Valladolid with injury and has not travelled to Italy.
The 13-time European champions have only 11 fit senior players for the first leg in Bergamo on Wednesday.
“We never take risks,” said Zidane about French forward Benzema.
“Maybe we would if it was the Champions League final or the last game of the league season with the title on the line, but there’s a long way to go.”
Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo are also among those who will miss the first knockout game.
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini says his side, who reached the quarter-finals last season, remain wary of the threat posed by the Spanish giants.
“We can’t change our characteristics, which allowed us to reach the Champions League and be competitive in Italy,” said Gasperini.
“We won’t change the team, but we have to be attentive and take some precautions. We want to challenge the absolute best teams and we feel in the right condition to give it our best shot.
“Real Madrid are transformed in the Champions League. I don’t believe much in their absences, you can take away the talent, but the Real team seen in these last few weekends was a more humble side, which is a quality.”
MURIEL FORM BOOST FOR ATALANTA: Luis Muriel has moved beyond his ‘super-sub’ role with a rich vein of form to boost Atalanta’s hopes against Real Madrid.
Colombian ace Muriel scored and set up countryman Duvan Zapata for another as Atalanta warmed up for the Spanish champions with a 4-2 win over Napoli to move up to fifth in Serie A at the weekend.
The 29-year-old is having the best campaign of his career with 17 goals so far including two in the Champions League group stages.
He will be keen to impress after a disappointing 18 months at Sevilla, signed from Sampdoria in 2017 as the La Liga side’s most expensive transfer.