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Simeone doesn’t deserve judgment on a game of inches

The Madrid derby could easily have gone Atleti’s way, so let’s not race to proclaim this the end of an era. 

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The obituary writers were out in force on Sunday morning following Atlético Madrid’s 3-1 loss in the derby against Real Madrid, feasting on Diego Simeone like wasps devouring an open jar of jam on a bright summer’s day. Some, you’d suspect, have been waiting to hit “publish” on these “end of an era” pieces for some time.

Yes, Atlético were beaten by their biggest rivals and lost their second LaLiga match in the space of six days, just a few weeks after being knocked out of the Copa del Rey. But this was a game of fine margins. The width of a credit card this way or the length of an ant that way and we would surely be having an entirely different conversation.

Without re-VARing the entire match, because that has been done enough, what is true is that the penalty awarded to Vinicíus, the offside Álvaro Morata goal and the Casemiro challenge on Morata inside the area were all ultra-close decisions and all went against los rojiblancos, as the club’s social media admin decided to point out on Saturday evening. Even Casemiro’s opener was a matter of inches, as Atlético cleared the danger from Toni Kroos’ original corner before the German was allowed a second bite at the cherry because the ball was just outside the triangle when he took the first one.

These moments were all hugely important in deciding the game’s outcome, but a few inches here or there, or a slightly different refereeing interpretation, could have tilted this game to Atleti’s side. It was the same at Real Betis, when Morata could — and, according to many of the Spanish media’s officiating gurus, should — have had a penalty, before los verdiblancos went up and won one of their own just eight minutes later.

Simeone has been criticised in the aftermath of this loss, but can the coach really be responsible for a game that was literally decided by a matter of inches?

In general play, this was an even battle for the first 80 minutes, before Real Madrid did logically dominate in the closing stages after Thomas Partey’s indisputable second yellow. While Real Madrid won the possession battle (66 percent to 34 percent), this will have surprised nobody and in terms of actual chances, both sides had 11 shots (nine inside the area for Atlético and eight inside for Real Madrid) and these shots were, overall, of similar quality as evidenced by the fact that the xG for this game was 0.9 vs 0.9 when removing Sergio Ramos’ penalty.

What happened is that this was a derby. You win some — like in the UEFA Super Cup in August — and you lose some, like on Saturday. Even when Atlético claimed the league title in 2013/14, they lost that season’s Copa del Rey semi-final tie against their rivals by a whopping 5-0 aggregate scoreline, even with their regular starters featuring. Was it an end of an era that day? No, the club’s great moment had yet to come.

As much as there’s a desire to draw long-term conclusions from every weekend of action, this was a derby of inches and Atleti could well have drawn or won it. Had that been the case, then I’m sure many of the Simeone obituaries would have been put on hold and we’d all have instead jumped to conclusions about Santiago Solari.

Sometimes, there is no overriding conclusion to be drawn. Sometimes two teams meet and one happens to win. This is what happened in Saturday’s derby.