The derby exemplified quite well why these two Madrid teams sit 10 points behind leaders Barcelona. Neither Real Madrid nor Atletico can score like they did in previous seasons, and that without major changes to their starting line-up in the summer. Their lack of goals has to do with the shape of their starters, although in the case of Real Madrid some may point to the reduced attacking alternatives from the bench now that Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez have left.
But the fact is that the same Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema that so well interpreted the service that Real Madrid’s midfield provided last season, and the same Antoine Griezmann who looked omnipresent in the final third for Atleti just a few months ago, now look completely disconnected from the rest of their teams, unable to find an opening in 90 minutes.
On Saturday, Diego Simeone once more showed the (excessive) respect he’s always displayed when facing Real Madrid. Yannick Carrasco on the bench, a steel midfield with Saul, Thomas, Gabi and Koke, and his most intense forwards tracking back, Griezmann and Correa. It was a defensive line-up, betting the house on their impressive high pressure, their scoring more dependent on a steal than in a play built from the back.
It almost worked. A double mistake by Marcelo and Varane in the third minute left Correa in front of Casilla, but he squandered an outstanding chance. Atletico kept the pressing up for most of the match, in a remarkable show of physical form, but only towards the end of the match, when Torres and Gameiro had replaced the starting forward duo, did they have another chance. In this case, the pressure worked again, but Gameiro’s effort after Torres’ great pass was headed out by Varane, who had broken his own team’s offside trap, but who corrected his mistake promptly.
Between those chances, precious little from Atletico in offense. Not only does Griezmann look completely absent, but also Koke and Saul spend most of their time chasing opposing midfielders rather than building their own plays. Simeone had the chance to try something a bit more daring, given Real Madrid’s form, but his caution got the best of him.
Zidane’s team grew in ball possession and presence in Atletico’s half as the match went on, but real openings were few and far between. Benzema’s legendary link-up play is becoming just that, a legend, as a forward who spends most of his time 60 yards away from the opposition goal can rarely make a difference to a match. Cristiano tries hard, but as during some spells last season his first touch looks a bit off, his top speed a bit slow – Juanfran beat him to a ball when he was the last defender – and in general he looks well below his top form. Given the status of the front two, Isco, Marcelo and Kroos generated plenty of creative, well-built plays that found no finisher, as has been the case a bit too often in this first third of the season.
What’s next for the Madrid duo? In the case of Atleti, it all depends on the arrival of Diego Costa and the resurrection of their offensive midfield. The team plays as devotedly as they’ve ever done with Simeone, but they’ve lost that spark that made them better than most La Liga teams. Unless the Argentinean coach finds a way to recover that bit of inventiveness from Griezmann and Koke, they’ll end up struggling for a Champions League spot.
In the case of Real Madrid, they have to win every single match of the upcoming four, and see what happens when they host Barcelona on the 23rd of December. A victory would give them some slight hope. Anything else would be the end of the title challenge and the opportunity for Zidane to give plenty of playing time to Ceballos, Theo, Vallejo and Llorente, keeping Cristiano and the unrecognizable Modric fresh for another Champions League run.
Home, sweet home. Tried to find some tickets, but this was Real Madrid’s first visit to the Wanda, and Atletico season ticketholders were not too keen on selling. In a regular La Liga match, 3.000 of them let the club sell their tickets and share the proceeds. For Saturday, only 300 did, so it was impossible to find one. This scribe will visit the Wanda on the first weekend of December, to watch the mighty Real Sociedad play there.
The man of the match
Lucas Hernandez. For the right or the wrong reasons, Lucas was present in most key plays. Saved Atleti a few times with timely tackles, defended Carvajal as well as we’ve ever seen and broke Ramos’ nose (extra points for Atletico supporters) when trying to prevent the Real Madrid skipper from heading home. An energetic and eventful display.
The wine of the match
Ferrer Bobet Vinyes Velles 2014. I love Catalan wines, and this product from the Priorat region is outstanding. The soil in the Priorat is quite mineral, so the taste of the wines is quite different from other Spanish regions, and the local appellation of origin is quite strict with quality standards. In this case, the wine smells fantastic and tastes even better. Full bodied, long, fresh, gets better with time. We had some cured cheese and jamón with it, a fantastic way of making a nil-nil a bit more bearable.