Sergio Ramos’s goalscoring instincts proved crucial yet again for holders Real Madrid, scoring one and forcing an own goal from Dries Mertens as the holders beat Napoli 3-1 away (6-2 aggregate) to progress to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League for the seventh consecutive time on Wednesday night.
Napoli had lost just one of their last 20 European home ties sent out their strongest possible side and with an intent to attack Los Blancos from kick off.
And like in the first leg, the Gil Azzurri took the lead fairly early in the first half. Their domination in midfield was rewarded when Dries Mertens put the home side ahead in the 25th minute, sprinting on to Marek Hamsik’s through ball and finishing well past Keylor Navas from a tight angle.
Madrid tried to reason with a goal of their own and came close when star striker Cristiano Ronaldo rounded Pepe Reina in the box but hit the post to keep the Italian’s hopes of progressing to the next round alive.
It was Mertens’ turn to strike the post next, after a loose ball fell his way inside the Madrid penalty area as Napoli searched for a second goal which would really put the pressure on the 11-time champions.
Hamsik then was sent through off a long ball but didn't have the pace to beat Pepe and Ramos, who were hot on his heels and as a result, his shot from distance went nowhere near Navas and the goal
Trailing 1-0 at half time but still ahead on aggregate (3-2) Madrid knew they could not start the second half as they had started the first. And Zinedine Zidane’s half time talk seemed to have worked as the away side came out the stronger, pressing for a goal which would change the complexion of the tie.
While their midfield had begun to control possession, Madrid’s much-vaunted trio, the BBC (Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo), were stuck in second gear and had been limited to shots from distance.
It was left to their prolific scorer from the back, Ramos, to head home in the 51st minute from a Toni Kroos corner. Once that ball touched his temple, it was destined for the net and Napoli were up against it for now they needed to score a minimum of two to force the round-of-16 clash into extra time.
Ramos struck for the second time just six minutes later and while his header was on target, Pepe Reina had it covered but Mertens decided to defend it and it took a deflection off him to settle into the net, effectively confirming the result in Madrid’s favour.
Napoli then went all in a bid to score but while Madrid survived a couple of close brushes, they had a chance of their own to seal the match when full back Dani Carvajal made brilliant run into the box but could not apply the finish with the goal at his mercy
Substitute Alvaro Morata finally scored a third deep into injury-time to mirror the first leg’s scoreline, tapping home after Reina had initially saved Ronaldo’s shot.
While Madrid have not been in imperious form by any stretch of the imagination, their ability to churn out results while still stuck in second gear is impressive and alongside Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, are the top contenders for this year’s Champions League title.