Real Madrid CF managed to scrape through the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 encounter against Italian side Atalanta on Wednesday, thanks to a late strike from man of the match Ferland Mendy.

The Spanish giants struggled to find a breakthrough despite going up against an opponent that was reduced to ten men as early as the opening 17 minutes. The 13-time European Champions dominated the possession, but it took them almost all of regulation time to finally secure the crucial away goal.

Luka Modric found Mendy, who was ready to pounce with a curling effort that sealed the victory in the 86th minute. Atalanta will be devastated to miss the opportunity to keep their opponents at bay, considering that they managed to do so until the closing minutes even after having a player sent off.

Remo Freuler received a red card in the 17th minute, following a challenge against Mendy who was denied a goal-scoring opportunity. The red card threw off Atalanta's entire game plan, which was to show off why they are considered to be one of the best attacking teams in Europe.

They had to settle for a more defensive approach, and were not able to take any shots on target throughout the 90 minutes. It was definitely a missed opportunity considering the fact that Real Madrid travelled to Bergamo without captain Sergio Ramos, whose absence at the back line always made it difficult for the La Liga champions to keep a solid defence.

Real Madrid was also without other key players like Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Fede Valverde. For all intents and purposes, Atalanta was the favourite to take the first leg victory.

It will be unlikely for all of Real Madrid's injured players to recover in time for the second leg, but an away goal and a win at Bergamo will have lifted their confidence. When they host Atalanta at the Alfredo di Stefano for the return leg, the odds will be shifted slightly in their favour.

Sergio Ramos
Real Madrid have lost eight of the last 10 European games in which Sergio Ramos has been missing AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU