Real Madrid appears this Wednesday in Bergamo (9:00 p.m., Movistar Champions League), considered ground zero of the coronavirus, for the first leg of the knockout stages of the Champions League, somehow also ground zero of the club in the European Cup if the last two seasons are attended. After three straight ears, Madrid fell in this round in March 2019 against Ajax with Solari on the bench, and in August 2020 against Manchester City with Zinedine Zidane back. “The Champions League for me starts now, and they are the games we want,” Toni Kroos said on Tuesday.
For Atalanta, this Wednesday’s game is the second stage of the unusual journey of a tiny and countercultural team, which last year stepped on the crossover phase of the Champions League for the first time in its history. That premiere will not only remain indelible in the memory of the Lombard city, but in that of the entire football world and that of half Europe. It has just been one year since that February 19 in which Valencia appeared in Milan to play against Atalanta, whose stadium lacked UEFA approval at the time.
The pandemic was cooking those days in the region. Some 40,000 people traveled from Bergamo to Milan for the match, while the rest of its 120,000 inhabitants gathered to watch it on television in houses and bars, with full reservations a month before (this Wednesday the bars must close three hours before the match) . When weeks later the region emerged as the place with the highest mortality in Europe, epidemiologists described the encounter as a “biological bomb.” From there, at least in a symbolic way, the coming of confinement and the general stoppage of life and football can be traced.
From that, Atalanta emerged in August in the quarterfinals in Lisbon, where they were just over five minutes away from knocking down PSG and sneaking into the semifinal. Madrid, for its part, went to crash in Manchester without Ramos, suspended, on a calamitous night in Varane. From that, the calendar bottleneck can also be traced to which some attribute in part the overcrowding of the Madrid infirmary, which is presented in Bergamo again without Ramos. But also without Hazard, Benzema, Carvajal, Valverde, Rodrygo, Marcelo, Militão and Odriozola: nine injured. If he repeats the eleven of the last league game, Zidane will only have on the bench one outfield player from the first team, Isco, accompanied by Chust, Miguel, Arribas, Blanco and Hugo Duro. “We know the casualties we have but there are players to enter the field to try to win. We will never be content with less. It’s a final, ”said the Frenchman.
In front of that battalion in the raspas, and propped up by a collection of new meritorious ones at the most critical moment of the season, a non-Italian team, purely dismal on the attack. Atalanta is the Italian team with the highest score this season among all competitions, with 2.18 goals per game, more than Juve (2.03) and Inter (2.09). A team launched into the exchange of blows by its coach, Gasperini, who does not even miss the escape of its star, Papu Gómez. Faced with this outburst, Kroos prescribes: “We want to have a more controlled game. We are going to try to play our game ”, he contributed as a formula to not perish again in the same ground zero of the last two Champions.