It came courtesy of an Álvaro Morata brace of headers, each one coming in the early stages of either half (the fourth and 46th minutes), with Antoine Griezmann adding another on 18 minutes to leave Toni Kroos’ long-range strike in the 35th minute as nothing more than a consolation goal.
Here, take a look at four talking points we can take from the match.
1. What a statement!
There was real potential for this to end disastrously for Atlético Madrid. A defeat in the derby would not just have been the latest humiliation against city rivals, but Atlético would have been 11 points off top spot after playing only five games. Instead, that margin is six points, which could come down to three with a win over Sevilla in December (Atleti’s game in hand).
But what’s more than that was the manner of the victory against Real Madrid. This was not a defensive block hitting on the counter and stealing a smash-and-grab win. This was a comprehensive victory in which Atlético were the better side, scoring for fun.
This was the kind of performance produced by teams competing for titles and silverware. It was a team display which gave a good account of Cholismo, without any boywonders trying to steal the show, and it was one that united the Metropolitano in creating an incredible atmosphere.
Atletico’s first real big win over Madrid at the Metropolitano. Prob biggest result since they moved here. Fans really, really enjoying it.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) September 24, 2023
After what had seemed to be a strong start, there was a slight feeling that the season had gone off the rails over the past week. This was a statement win which puts Atleti firmly back on track in the pursuit of its objectives and makes its fans believe again.
The fact that it came against the team’s eternal rival made it all the sweeter for Colchoneros, but also for the players and staff who showed the kind of passion that endears them to fans.
2. Atlético are capable of game management
What was particularly impressive and satisfying about this win was not just the result, but the way in which it came. Against Lazio, we saw an Atlético side that dominated the game, scored a goal, and then ultimately failed to see out the match until an end result.
Here, an early goal could have set Atleti up for disappointment. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time that a strong start hadn’t led to three points. But instead, Diego Simeone’s team managed the game superbly, in part thanks to a strong defensive display but also through knowing when to gamble and when to sit back.
Handling the pressure of a derby in a sold-out Metropolitano was a big ask but it was one that the team handled well. It was Real Madrid, rather than Atlético, who lost their cool and started diving into rash challenges and picking up cards.
One element that should please Atlético fans was the way in which the players adapted their strategy. To start with, there had been a strong focus down the right flank, with Nahuel Molina carrying a lot of responsibility, but it was ultimately failing to produce results. That led to a switch in focus with more coming down the left, and that was where Samuel Lino was able to claim his assist.
Such adaptability and versatility is what Atleti are going to need this season. They don’t have it in terms of strength in depth in their squad, and so getting the most out of every player to adapt to the game is going to be essential.
3. Álvaro Morata is world-class — on his day
There are two kinds of Álvaro Morata. This kind of Álvaro Morata, or the kind of Álvaro Morata that we have seen all too often since the start of the season. On his day, which Sunday most certainly was, he is capable of making the difference and pushing Atlético de Madrid to an all-new level.
Here, his positioning and movement in particular were top-class, and that was what got him into the right place at the right time for his opening strike, which gave him a clear confidence boost in front of goal too.
Morata only had two shots in this game, scoring both, and ultimately they were quite similar goals. In total, his xG across both was 0.74, reflecting the quality of the positions that he was getting into in a central spot on the edge or just inside of the six-yard box. They left Kepa with no chance of denying him once he got to the ball first.
Morata didn’t contribute much more on the ball than these two moments, and was engaged in a tough battle as the hold-up option when Atlético needed an outlet to transition. It’s a role that he fulfills more comfortably than any other option in the squad, and he did so in an assured way that was crucial to the Atleti game plan.
“What did I feel when I scored the goals? I thought about what the coach said. That tomorrow, the kids go to school wearing the Atleti jersey and are proud of us,” he said in his post-match comments to the press. He’s all-in on this project and this club.
Now, Morata has to build up some consistency. It’s easy to forget that he has now scored five goals in LaLiga this season, making him the league’s joint-top goalscorer alongside Jude Bellingham and Robert Lewandowski, and that’s without being at his best.
4. That was a Cholo defensive masterclass
It’s easy to forget that the last time this team played in LaLiga, they shipped three goals to a Valencia side who were being tipped as relegation candidates in the summer. In midweek, they allowed a goalkeeper to have a free run and score in injury time. Yet against Real Madrid, one of the most potent attacking teams in Europe was stifled.
In part, this was down to Madrid’s inability to cut through the lines, and it may have been a different story had they possessed the pace and incision of Vinícius Júnior, who was ruled out with a stomach bug on game day.
But it’s essential to recognise the quality of the defensive performance from Atleti. There is no better reflection of that than the fact that Madrid recorded their lowest xG per shot of the season, at just 0.05. Despite attempting 20 shots on goal, they were almost entirely low-quality chances and pot shots from outside the box, unable to get past the Atlético defensive unit.
Atletico's 11 players defending behind the ball on their own third of the field. 7th minute.— Lucas Navarrete (@LucasNavarreteM) September 24, 2023
Good luck creating chances against this system.
The return of Josema Giménez to the starting line-up was much-needed, and he led the defensive line well, his organisation making a big difference. Without Axel Witsel, the unit looked more mobile and could react more quickly, Giménez’s six clearances reflecting that.
Specifically, Lino operating as a left-wing-back deserves praise for a rounded display in which he did not hesitate to get stuck in to his defensive duties in addition to his offensive flair. He recorded more tackles than any other player on the field with five, and recovered possession a further four times.
This was not quite as “defensive” as many Madridistas would have you believe. It was not a shut-out job from Atlético. Even so, it was a strong defensive showing which denied Real Madrid space in the final third, and that ultimately meant that only a Kroos rocket could beat Jan Oblak.