MADRID – While Real Madrid needed a goal with four minutes left in regulation on Wednesday to beat Atalanta 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie, Manchester City cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The Blancos have hoisted the trophy a record 13 times and their first win in the round of 16 since February 2019 must have coach Zinedine Zidane feeling good about his team’s chances as he looks ahead to the March 16 second leg in Madrid.
With nine players injured, including offensive talisman Karim Benzema and back-line anchor Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid needed someone else to step up in Bergamo and Ferland Mendy delivered.
His first decisive contribution came in the 17th minute, when he drew a foul by Remo Freuler on the edge of the area and the referee showed the Atalanta midfielder a red card.
Going down to 10 men crippled what has become the most potent attack in Serie A, who failed to put a single shot on target.
The Blancos were dominant even before the sending-off and they ended the contest with 69 percent possession. Even so, it was only in the 45th minute that Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini was forced into action to deal with a header from Casemiro.
The contest was still deadlocked 0-0 in the 86th minute when Luka Modric found Mendy just outside the box and the Frenchman beat Gollini with a curving shot into the bottom corner.
In Budapest, “host” Mönchengladbach did not pose much of a test for a Man City side riding an 18-game winning streak.
Bernardo Silva opened the scoring in the 29th minute with an assist from Joao Cancelo, who picked off a poor pass from Gladbach’s Christoph Kramer.
But given the clear superiority of Pep Guardiola’s men, Gladbach might well have felt lucky to be trailing by just a goal at the break.
The home side – the game was moved to a neutral site because of pandemic travel restrictions – proved unable to play out from the back and its occasional attempts on the long ball lacked precision.
Gabriel Jesus squandered a chance to make it 2-0 in the 54th minute, eight minutes before Gladbach’s Alassane Plea sent a shot just wide of the post.
In the 64th minute, Bernardo Silva relayed a Cancelo cross to Jesus in the box and the Brazilian hammered home.