For Real Madrid, knocked out of the Supercopa de Espana and four points off LaLiga Santander leaders Atletico Madrid having played two games more, the Champions League will not offer an easy way out.
In the last 16, they will face an Atalanta team containing one of the most potent strikers in European football: Luis Muriel.
The Colombian striker has been in exceptional form this season, scoring 15 goals. In Serie A, he has found the back of the net 10 times in 14 appearances, with a goal every 45 minutes on average.
So far in 2021 he has scored in all four games, and on Thursday night he scored the decisive goal as Atalanta defeated Cagliari to advance to the Coppa Italia quarter-finals.
Since Zinedine Zidane returned as coach in 2019, Real Madrid’s defence has been their major weakness, especially when Sergio Ramos has been injured, so Muriel and strike partner Duvan Zapata will relish this challenge.
Atalanta have crucial games coming up, particularly a visit to table-toppers AC Milan, before they arrive at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on February 24.
However, Zidane’s Real Madrid thrive off of difficult periods, especially in the lead-up to an important Champions League tie.