Atlético Madrid were forced to settle for a point at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu as they drew 1-1 with Real Madrid. It came after Álvaro Rodríguez scored a late equaliser to cancel out José María Giménez’s header in the second half.
Ángel Correa also saw red for an off-the-ball incident, with Jesús Gil Manzano deciding that the violent intent of his arm was enough to warrant a dismissal. It was a frustrating afternoon for the Colchoneros, in which they felt like they were fighting an uphill battle but still came away with a share of the spoils.
This is how our “aggressor’s” leg looks like.— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) February 25, 2023
Nothing new at the Bernabéu. pic.twitter.com/atik2J1Poo
Here are three things we learned from the game.
Josema Giménez is still Josema Giménez
Uruguayan central defenders at Atlético Madrid have been pretty popular, but Josema Giménez has seen his status fade in recent seasons. Injuries have seen him vanish more regularly than he has appeared, with the ongoing absences leaving him unable to regularly produce his trademark domineering displays.
This time, Giménez was left out of the starting line-up as a coach’s decision. He had played well against Athletic Club last weekend, but Stefan Savić and Mario Hermoso were preferred as the two players to start this high-pressure match at the Bernabéu. When he came on as a substitute, it was a chance for him to show what he’s made of.
Giménez did that both defensively and at the other end, as he got his head onto the ball to tip it in at the far post. He showed up as the man for the big moment, the kind of leader this team has needed this season. And in the closing stages of the game, with Éder Militão coming up to act as a target man for Real Madrid, Giménez was the one to engage in the physical battle. He’s a warrior.
It was perhaps ironic that his goal would be cancelled out, as it reflected Josema’s role at Atleti. Just as he was expected to step up as the main man following Diego Godín’s departure, only to be hit by injuries worse than ever, it felt like this was one of those moments that could have been pivotal in his career.
Instead, it will now be forgotten.
Reinildo’s injury is akin to a loss
The worst moment of all in this match came when Reinildo picked up a serious injury: a torn ACL.
Reinildo has suffered a rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. We wish you a speedy recovery!#StayStrongReinildo— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) February 25, 2023
The left-back was facing up to Fede Valverde after 20 minutes when he turned and caught his leg in the turf. He went down in agony, a rare sight from one of LaLiga’s toughest and most resilient players.
As Reinildo attempted to stand to see if he could carry on, he couldn’t even put any weight on his injured leg and instead was forced off on a stretcher. Bizarrely, he was met by boos and whistles from a minority of Real Madrid fans.
Simeone confirmed after the match that the Mozambican would miss the remainder of the season.
No matter what happens in the rest of this derby, Atlético Madrid have lost today. Looks like a bad injury to Reinildo, their most important player after Griezmann.— Euan McTear (@emctear) February 25, 2023
Reinildo’s importance to this team simply cannot be understated. Beyond being one of the most consistent performers this season, at 2,693 minutes before this fixture, he has played more minutes than any other outfield player in Atlético’s squad. His presence, whether as a left-central defender or as a left-back, has been one of the few regular things in the Atleti defence this season.
While Nahuel Molina’s form has fluctuated, Stefan Savić and Josema Giménez have battled injuries and suspensions, and Mario Hermoso has had a rollercoaster ride, Reinildo has been there through it all. And now he’s said “goodbye” for the season.
There will also be the issue of who steps in to replace him. Right from the off, we can say that they will fail to offer the flexibility and adaptability that makes Reinildo so valuable. His ability to transition between a back four and a back three is crucial, and is something that no other option in the squad can offer.
Sergio Reguilón is currently injured but when fit would seem the most likely candidate, but he has yet to string together a run of games or consistent displays since he arrived on loan. Yannick Carrasco could drop in, but that would mean a transition to a back three once again just when this back four system seemed to be working well.
The other option could be Saúl Ñíguez, a man who had a big night himself at the Bernabéu.
In Saúl we trust
Of all of the selections in the line-up, the biggest surprise was the call to include Saúl in the midfield. Simeone had tried Saúl in this role, on the left of a midfield three, in training in midweek and stuck with it for the match itself.
In truth, El Cholo didn’t have many other options. Rodrigo de Paul, Thomas Lemar and Geoffrey Kondogbia were all ruled out due to injury or just coming back, leaving either Saúl or Axel Witsel as the options to come into the team within this 4-3-3 system.
It gave Atlético a slightly strange balance. On the right, Molina and Pablo Barrios had their hands full with Vinícius Júnior while Saúl dropped in to support Reinildo and Carrasco on the left.
What was even more surprising was not to see Barrios withdrawn at half-time (in itself not a shock), but to see Saúl stay on. It was a bizarre selection from Simeone to leave him out given Barrios’ presence on the right, and also meant sacrificing Marcos Llorente into a deeper position on the right with Ángel Correa ahead of him.
Saúl did not do anything to particularly stand out in this game, nobody really did. But he did understand his role within this unit. He won both of his tackles and half his ground duels, keeping the ball moving with a reasonable 85% pass accuracy.
With Reinildo facing a long-term absence, this may not be the only Saúl start we see in the weeks ahead. Playing him as a left-wing-back was precisely what led to him being keen to leave the club before his move to Chelsea on loan, but he now seems a more humble figure who could take that position if it means game time and minutes on the field.