Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Raul Gonzalez have scored more times in the competition than the Frenchman. His class just cannot be questioned.
Likewise, in disposing of a dangerous side like Atalanta, who had already won at Liverpool and Ajax this season, Real Madrid also showed the rest of Europe that they shouldn’t be underestimated, despite back-to-back last-16 exits in 2019 and 2020.
Their spine is stronger now, with Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Luka Modric all performing brilliantly in a team spearheaded by Benzema.
Ramos, only just back from a knee injury, was solid at the back and added Madrid’s second on the night from the penalty spot, pleading with coach Zinedine Zidane to leave him on the pitch as Eder Militao warmed up.
The coach wanted to take off his captain to protect that dodgy knee, as he did in the weekend comeback against Elche, but Ramos was hungry for minutes. With his contract up at the end of the season, this could well be his last campaign for Madrid.
The skipper has won the Champions League four times, the same as Benzema, and the duo would love to add another, which would be a record 14th for Real Madrid, who have quite the love affair with this tournament.
Atalanta started well and pried open the Blancos early on, but Robin Gosens spurned what proved his team’s best chance of the first half by shooting meekly at Courtois.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s exciting underdogs nearly made last year’s semi-finals and even though they had the better of the opening period, it was Madrid who took the lead.
Marco Sportiello’s gross error led to Benzema’s opener, with the goalkeeper passing the ball straight to Luka Modric, who squared for the Frenchman to tuck home after 34 minutes.