There was late drama at Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo as Real Madrid registered a 1-0 win over Atalanta with an 86th-minute winner. Ferland Mendy was Real Madrid's hero on the night as he was instrumental in the red card and the winning goal, two moments that defined the first leg.
The hosts got off to the worst possible start as midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off even before the halfway point of the first 45 minutes for a last-man foul on Mendy, denying a goalscoring opportunity.
This unfortunate start, coupled with star man Duvan Zapata's injury, led to a substitution at the half an hour mark which saw Mario Pasalic come on for the Colombian — leaving Luis Muriel as the only noteworthy attacker on the pitch.
These events set the tone for the remainder of the first leg as Real Madrid, traditionally a side that have more of the possession, continued to knock the ball around comfortably against Gian Piero Gasperini's ten men. In fact, the Spanish champions ended the game with nearly 70% of the ball and the Bergamo-based club couldn't even register a single shot on target as they were pinned back into their own half for large parts of the game.
Real Madrid came close to breaking the deadlock on several occasions and had just under 20 shots on the night, albeit only three of them were on target. A spirited Atalanta thought they had managed managed a clean sheet against Zinedine Zidane's men despite playing with a numerical disadvantage for nearly 80 minutes including added time.
This was, of course, until everything changed in the 86th minute.
Luka Modric took a short corner from the right-hand side and found Ferland Mendy beyond the edge of the Atalanta box and the Frenchman unleashed a beautiful curling effort to beat everyone including Pierluigi Gollini in goal. The left-back's goal, particularly with his weaker foot, was a goal that was worthy of winning the game.
While Gasperini would be disappointed that his side couldn't see out the last four minutes of regulation time, Zidane, on the other hand, would understandably be relieved after his compatriot's late strike to give his side the win and the crucial away goal.
The stage is set nicely for a showdown at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium next month as the tie is far from over. Atalanta could even take comfort from the fact that Real Madrid superstar Casemiro will not be available for selection to make matters worse for the Spanish champions. The Blancos would hope that Fede Valverde recovers in time for clash in the Spanish capital.
Here are some of the best tweets from the game!