Welcome to Masterpiece Theatre — Atlético Madrid style! I will rewatch and opine about memorable matches from the Diego Simeone era as we wait patiently for present-day Atlético to return.
We begin with one of the very best days from the past eight-plus years — a Madrid Derby played at Estadio Vicente Calderón on Feb. 7, 2015.
Luis Enrique’s electrifying Barcelona side were on song after a Christmastime lull, but Real Madrid were four points clear of the Catalans at this point in the season. Reigning champions Atleti lingered seven points behind — the title defense wasn’t dead yet. Cristiano Ronaldo had rung up four hat tricks by January, and Los Blancos had claimed the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup titles in addition to the Champions League in 2014.
(I will NOT rewatch that match.)
Diego Simeone’s title-winners took a hit after Chelsea snapped up that side’s goalkeeper, left back and center forward. However, €30 million man Antoine Griezmann was rounding into form following a rough start, and Simeone’s preferred midfield four — Gabi, Koke, Tiago and Arda Turan — had all stayed post-facelift. Raúl García was still the first man off the bench, and Saúl Ñíguez had impressed on loan (albeit in central defense) at Rayo Vallecano. Plus, club idol Fernando Torres was back from a doomed spell at AC Milan.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid were banged-up but still favored entering the derbi. Pepe, Luka Modrić, Sergio Ramos and James Rodríguez were all injured, while Marcelo was suspended.
Atlético were at full strength, and a faux-hawked Simeone fielded his best XI as the mattress makers went for a sixth win from the past seven league games. The Calderón looked beautiful.
Just eight minutes into the match, Koke pulled up with a hamstring problem after he failed to catch up to a Griezmann through ball, while Diego Godín went down following a bloody collision with Sami Khedira. Only the latter continued — the 20-year-old Saúl took the future captain’s place on the left-hand side.
That change jolted Atlético to life. Real Madrid failed to deal with a typically-dangerous Juanfran cross, Mario Mandžukić laid off for an onrushing Tiago Mendes, and Iker Casillas spilled the Portuguese’s shot. Atleti had the lead — the Fondo Sur (the old south stand) was bouncing, and Ronaldo’s only major contribution to this point was a nasty-looking foul on Arda.
It didn’t take long for Los Colchoneros to double their advantage — and for Saúl to announce himself by scoring the goal you’ve seen a thousand times. Saúl actually started the move after Tiago cut out a wayward Nacho long ball. He lofted a long ball of his own to Mandžukić, and the Croatian played the ball short to Guilherme Siqueira — whose bustling run/short cross combination was the best moment of his Atlético career.
Watching that first half makes one realize how special Arda was before he lost his marbles. He was as tough and creative as they came, a player with a great touch and an outstanding work rate who always committed to a tackle (for better or worse). Juanfran locked up Ronaldo — a battle he usually won in his prime — and Mandžukić had a hand in both goals thanks to his movement, intelligence and physicality.
Atlético focused on containment initially to start the second half and did so with attitude — Arda, Godín and Raúl García (who was warming up on the touchline) were booked for dissent before the hour.
An aside — I loved this camera pan to the bench, where Jan Oblak had no idea he was six weeks away from becoming the starting goalkeeper.
But buoyed by Madrid’s inability to pass the ball within 20 yards of goal, Simeone’s men turned up the pressure again and Griezmann was rewarded for his strong performance with a 67th minute goal. Mandžukić provided another assist when he hit a header across the six-yard box to the Frenchman — Arda’s lofted cross into the penalty area had taken out every defender save Raphaël Varane.
Finally, Mandžu dipped around Dani Carvajal to cap off this special day — and man of the match effort — with a lovely diving header from a Torres cross. Atlético could not get a fifth goal, but still completed a league double over Real Madrid for the first time in 64 years. The club anthem rang around the Calderón after Simeone’s men finished painting this masterpiece, in which they outshot their city rivals 17-4 and held them to one shot on target.
ATM XI: Moyá; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Siqueira; Gabi, Tiago, Arda, Koke (Saúl 10’, Raúl García 71’); Griezmann (Torres 77’), Mandžukić.
Goals: Tiago 14’ Saúl 18’ Griezmann 67’ Mandžukić 89’
RM XI: Casillas; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Coentrão; Khedira (Jesé 46’), Kroos, Isco (Illarramendi 68’); Bale, Benzema (Hernández 73’), Ronaldo.