Atlético Madrid really needed a win at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday afternoon to maintain hope of challenging Barcelona for top spot in LaLiga come May. Or at least of keeping alive the faintest illusion that there is a title race.
The way they lost though, despite playing more ambitiously than they have for most of the season, hurts them in two ways. The chances of catching Barcelona now seem even more remote. And Real Madrid are one point ahead of them. Oh, and they lost a derby at home by a couple of goals, had a man sent off and whimpered to defeat against their bitter rivals.
Thibaut Courtois was the talk of the town before the game as Atletico fans destroyed his plaque outside the ground with toy rats, empty cans of Mahou and whatever bits of rubbish they could find. They saved some of those toy rats for during the game though as a tidal wave of furry vermin were launched at the Belgian as he took his place in goals before kick-off.
Simeone left Rodri on the bench as he wasn’t 100 percent fit to start and Atletico didn’t miss him for a start as they were yelled on by a raucous crowd at the Metropolitano. He started with Lemar and Correa on the wings and an athletic, attacking duo of Saul and Thomas in the middle.
Their first real effort came after 10 minutes when Partey received the ball and drove into the box. His effort was blazed wide but Atletico were finding space in and around Real Madrid’s defence and we had the first signs of what was to come in an open and engrossing first 45 minutes.
That good start came to a shuddering halt when Thomas Lemar conceded a corner and Sergio Ramos rose above four Atletico players and headed down to Casemiro. The Brazilian rifled a chilena low and beyond Jan Oblak to give Real Madrid the lead against the run of play but that sloppy defending corner would remain a constant throughout the game and would outdo Atletico in the end.
The home side responded with a goal just nine minutes later when Angel Correa won the ball back off Vinicius and played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Antoine Griezmann. He slotted low and through Courtois’ legs and while VAR needed to be consulted, the goal was given and Atletico were back. At that point, midway through the half, caution was being thrown to the wind and the referee was tasked with keeping a lid on things.
Vinicius, proving himself to be a real handful again, got the wrong side of Jose Gimenez and the Uruguayan defender clumsily caught the Brazilian inside the penalty area. VAR was asked to intervene again but decided that while Gimenez threw himself at Vinicius outside the box, contact was made just inside and Sergio Ramos was given the chance to put Real Madrid ahead again.
Oblak was faced with the choice of diving or standing with Ramos’ penchant for a panenka playing on his mind. He dived and Ramos didn’t go for the panenka but Oblak might as well have saved himself the hassle because the Real Madrid captain’s penalty was hit perfectly into the bottom corner. Advantage Real Madrid once again and they weren’t ready to let it slip again.
Alvaro Morata lobbed Thibaut Courtois after a long, launched pass from Gimenez, and it looked like he had drawn his new side level. His touch was sublime and the finish wasn’t bad either as Ramos scrambled back couldn’t prevent it from going over the line. His timing wasn’t great according to VAR though as he was ruled offside and denied his first goal in rojiblanco since his move from Chelsea.
He was denied a penalty shortly after when VAR decided it was a free to Real Madrid in their penalty area rather than a spot kick as the striker was caught by Casemiro. It was unclear as to what happened in the area before the whistle but the referee, and VAR, saw a foul on a Real Madrid player and Morata was denied his second penalty in a week on a borderline call.
Gareth Bale, on as a substitute, wrapped up all three points with a marvellous strike into the bottom corner after receiving the ball from Luka Modric as Atletico’s challenge fell to pieces.
Thomas Partey was then sent off for a second yellow as he clipped Toni Kroos. It was tame but with 80 minutes gone and with Atletico two goals down, the chances of a comeback were dwindling by the second.
Atletico sit in third after the defeat as Real Madrid go five off the top and with Barcelona travelling to San Mames on Sunday night.