ATM XI: Oblak, Juanfran, Savic, Godín, Lucas, Thomas, Gabi, Koke, Saúl, Correa, Griezmann.
Subs: Carrasco for Thomas (56’); Torres for Griezmann (76’); Gameiro for Correa (77’)
RM XI: Casilla, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Cristiano, Benzema.
Subs: Nacho for Ramos (46’), Asensio for Benzema (76’)
In recent times, el derbi has had massive implications toward the title, but this would be the first in a decade where neither side has been in the top two. Key for Atlético Madrid was the return of chief creator Koke from injury, and Real Madrid too had an important player back from injury in Dani Carvajal.
The first chance of the match fell Atlético’s way just three minutes in and came from sloppy Real play. Antoine Griezmann made a fantastic interception and failed to hang on, but more sloppy play saw Ángel Correa go one-on-one with Kiko Casilla — only to mishit a fantastic chance.
Griezmann’s haircut was not the only new thing about Atlético, with Diego Simeone opting for a 4-2-3-1 with Koke as the #10 and Saúl and Correa acting as wingers. It was a bold move for a manager who does not change his formation often, but it showed early promise with Atlético generating quite a few scoring opportunities, which has not been common so far this season.
On 15 minutes, Juanfran rolled back the years with an amazing sprint to cut off Cristiano Ronaldo, who would have been one-on-one with Jan Oblak. Not only did Juanfran take the ball from Cristiano, but also continued his sprint to maintain possession and move the ball forward. Juanfran will feel the consequences of that sprint tomorrow, but his dedication to the team has never been in question. A particularly humorous moment came when Correa added some spice to the derbi by punting the ball (accidentally) into a prone Karim Benzema’s face.
Atlético did a good job limiting Real’s chances in the first half; Toni Kroos’ effort after a one-two with Ronaldo was Real’s best opportunity of the half. Lucas Hernández got a shot on target when he volleyed his left foot directly into the nose of Sergio Ramos, which caused los blancos’ captain to require treatment for a broken nose. He would not continue after halftime.
At the half, there was much reason for optimism, as Atleti looked more promising on the attacking end of the pitch than they have all season. And a solid defensive effort kept the visitors’ big offensive weapons from making an impact.
The second half continued in much the same way as the first, with Atlético focusing on defense and structure, hoping for an opportunity to present itself going forward. Real were able to worm their way back into the match due to better control over pace and started to pull away in terms of shot attempts.
Simeone’s substitutions were better than they’ve been in recent weeks, but still somewhat confusing. Yannick Carrasco for Thomas Partey was understandable, as the winger could give Atlético more on the wings than Saúl could. But pulling both Correa and Griezmann for Kévin Gameiro (who missed a huge lobbed chance) and Fernando Torres was a head-scratcher at first glance. Ultimately, the two sides canceled each other out after Lucas made a heroic block on an unmarked Ronaldo.
Barcelona were the real winners today. It was a promising first half, but the momentum really slowed after the break. Even though Atlético remain unbeaten, it’s quite an unconvincing unbeaten run with far too many draws. Now the team must focus their attention on the extremely faint hope of Champions League qualification, with another home match against Roma on Wednesday.