Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini brushed aside talk of injuries at Real Madrid, insisting instead that the record Champions League winners “transform” on the elite European competition’s stage.
The Italian club, who have never won a title apart from the Coppa Italia nearly six decades ago, are playing their biggest match against the 13-times European champions in today’s last 16, first leg tie.
“Real Madrid transform in the Champions League compared to the league, the match against Inter Milan was a game of great quality and personality,” said Gasperini yesterday of the Spanish champions’ group wins over Antonio Conte’s Italian league leaders.
Real have injury worries with French striker Karim Benzema in doubt with Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo and Eder Militao among the players out. “I don’t believe much in these absences,” continued Gasperini.
“They take away important players and talent, but it seems to me that the Real Madrid team has been able to become more humble and in fact have risen a lot in the league table. I’m convinced we’ll find a team that is even more focused and determined.”
Gasperini said he would rather face Zinedine Zidane as a coach than a player. “If he were to play, I would be very worried. Luckily he will remain on the bench,” said 63-year-old Gasperini of the former Juventus and Real Madrid player.
Gasperini recalled that when he coached the Juventus youth team he often went to watch Zidane, 48, training with the senior side. “He was an absolutely top class player for whom I find no comparison. Then as a coach he continued to win, right from the start, it means he has a DNA of football.”
For Gasperini the important thing is to remain in the match going into the second leg in Madrid on March 16. “Qualification will be decided there, tomorrow is only the first half of the match,” he added.
Real to go all out for win despite injuries, says Zidane
Meanwhile, Real will attack Atalanta and go all out for victory despite missing close to half of their squad due to injury, coach Zidane said.
“We’re focusing on the players we do have available and we’re going to prepare the game well and try to win it. We always go out on to the pitch to win, we never accept anything else,” Zidane said.
“We know there’s a second leg to come but we’re only focused on tomorrow’s game. We want to keep up our run of form and we know how difficult the game will be but we’re concentrated and committed to putting in a good performance.”
Zidane added that there was “no reasonable explanation” for the club’s litany of injuries. “We didn’t have a pre-season campaign but neither did anyone else and we have had a lot of absences. But we’ll compete with the players we do have and we’re ready for the game,” he said.
Real Madrid have not got past the Champions League last 16 since winning the competition for a third time in a row in 2018, going out to Ajax Amsterdam in 2019 and Manchester City last year. Zidane likened Gasperini’s Atalanta side to the Ajax team that took the Champions League by storm two years ago, saying they were “a very attacking team, physically strong and who do many things well”.
“Gasperini was the Juventus youth coach when I played for them and he has done a great job, I love him as a coach,” added the Frenchman.
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