Atlético Madrid welcomed a very different Real Madrid to the red and white side of town on Sunday night, though they did so without the much-spoken about “guard of honour” for the recently-crowned LaLiga champions.
Instead, Atleti did their talking on the pitch and secured a 1-0 win, the first Derbi Madrileño the hosts have won at the five-year-old Wanda Metropolitano. It came courtesy of a VAR-awarded penalty-kick, converted by Yannick Carrasco.
Here are three things we learned from the derby:
Real Madrid didn’t care about this game
Yes, Atlético won a first Derbi Madrileño since 2016, but this was a Derbi in name only. Andriy Lunin, Jesús Vallejo and Luka Jović are not players at a level requisite for a game this significant.
Media fully expected Carlo Ancelotti to make changes to his team after going 120 minutes against Manchester City in midweek, but these rotations went beyond what was expected.
Karim Benzema was expected to start in all of Madrid’s major sports news outlets on Sunday morning, but he didn’t. In fact, only three of Real Madrid’s starting line-up would make Ancelotti’s strongest XI: Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Éder Militão. None of them completed the 90 minutes.
Real Madrid had already won LaLiga heading into this tie. Not only one eye, but both of their eyes, are now set on Paris. Derby or not. As Euan McTear wrote in his column for Managing Madrid, “No matter how meaningless this fixture, it was still a derby, so (the starting XI) was a bit of a shock.”
With all that was at stake for Atleti, knowing the peril that a top-four spot would be in if three points weren’t secured, only a win would have been an acceptable result for the Colchoneros.
A Derbi Madrileño win is always sweet for Atlético fans, but this time it felt like a derby against Castilla, more than one against Real Madrid.
Atleti got lucky they didn’t pay for their missed chances
Sixteen shots, 2.45 xG, yet only one goal from the penalty spot.
This is the same old story that we hear time and time again from Atlético Madrid — failing to take chances.
How often have we seen this script before? Atlético dominating, but failing to make their chances count and ending up with a disappointing result? And equally, for the other side, how many times have we seen Real Madrid played off the park, only to convert their one or two chances and return home to the Bernabéu with all three points?
Had Benzema made it off the bench, this tie could have ended very differently. With 1.14 xG forcing Jan Oblak into six saves, Sunday was one of those times where the Slovenian had to be one of Atleti’s best performers, despite his side playing on the front foot for much of the game.
It’s now been 308 minutes since Atlético last scored in open play. There’s only been one goal scored in open play over Atleti’s past seven matches. That’s combining the likes of João Félix, Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suárez, Ángel Correa, Matheus Cunha, Giuliano Simeone, Yannick Carrasco, Renan Lodi and Marcos Llorente all in offensive positions at one point or another across that run.
The positive in this case, unlike in some recent matches, is that Atlético did create opportunities. The last time Atleti registered more than 16 shots in a single game was the Champions League game against Milan at San Siro last September.
The chance creation coming from midfield, where Geoffrey Kondogbia dominated and Koke looked much more influential and creative than he has for some time, gives us cause for optimism. But Atleti will always be limited and will continue to scrape results with a slice of luck, until they can add another clinical killer to their attack.
We need to talk about Antoine
This point may well link into the previous one, because the club’s major signing to provide a long-term solution to the striker position has been a failure. Since joining on loan from FC Barcelona, Antoine Griezmann has had more haircuts than league goals.
Griezmann has won over his doubters in some aspects. He does work hard for the team. He will accept playing a deeper role because his coach asks him. He’s not an ego-driven prima donna. He has done what’s necessary to fit back in at the club in terms of his image, attitude and reputation.
But what’s letting him down is something that was barely even considered when he rejoined the club in August. Is he good enough? A goal every 580 minutes would suggest not.
Coming on at half-time for Ángel Correa on Sunday, it made sense that Griezmann’s experience and guile would see him run rings around Vallejo. His finishing should have been a step up in quality to really test Lunin. He failed on both fronts. Chances did come Griezmann’s way, but he fired wide of the target on his two best chances.
There were eery similarities to Luis Suárez earlier on this season, as we saw signs of the Uruguayan aging. Chances that Griezmann would’ve buried with his eyes closed only a year or two ago are now going high and wide.
That leaves Atlético Madrid with a dilemma. The understanding is that he will remain on loan next season, but then a permanent transfer decision must be made. On a player who will be 32 years of age by the summer of 2023. A fading star, past his best, commanding huge wages. Is he really the man Atlético want to build their future around? Diego Simeone may say yes, but it’s up to others at the club to provide opposition if his blind faith is to stick with Griezmann.