Real Madrid: 5 players who must shine against Atalanta in the first leg

Real Madrid, Casemiro (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Casemiro (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images) /
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Real Madrid, Raphael Varane
Real Madrid, Raphael Varane (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images) /

CB Raphael Varane

Center back Raphael Varane is the leader of the back line with Sergio Ramos still out injured, and this Champions League Round of 16 clash at Atalanta on the road means a lot to Varane personally. In his last road performance in the Champions League Round of 16 without Ramos by his side, Varane cost his team with two horrible errors that were completely uncharacteristic of the world-class central defender.

In the months since that match at the Etihad, Varane has put those errors behind him with several big-game performances. He was excellent a couple of weeks ago at Huesca, scoring both goals in a come-from-behind win. Defensively, it has been hard to spot any flaws in Varane’s game since the calendar flipped to 2021, though he did have some early-season issues with ball security.

Atalanta will attack Varane on the ball. Duvan Zapata, Luis Muriel, and even the midfielders will challenge Varane’s passing range. They will try to force him and Nacho Fernandez into mistakes and feed off of anything Real Madrid gift them.

Varane will have to cope with one of the world’s best striker pairings. If you ask me, Zapata and Muriel are even more consistent and clinical than the combination of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. Muriel, in particular, is an underrated weapon, as he’s needed just 752 minutes to score 14 goals. And he is in fine form right now.

Real won’t score many goals, so they must keep Atalanta quiet. Varane is central to this effort at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.