Real Madrid 2 versus Atletico Madrid 0
A Real Madrid with their backs against the wall is a dangerous Real Madrid and they showed that against their city rivals. Fresh off an away win over Sevilla and securing UEFA Champions League continuation after some tricky results in their group, Real Madrid faced off against La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s squad is fitter after injuries to key men and they are improving. Atletico had only conceded 2 goals in the league before this encounter but more impressively, Diego Simeone’s side has scored 21 goals. He has constructed an attacking system while retaining the defensive solitude his side is famous for. However, Real have an almost imperial/psychological advantage in this tie. We analyze 5 talking points from Real’s win over Atletico.
Classy Karim Benzema
Fresh from his 2-goal showing against Borussia Monchengladbach, Benzema showed why he is one of the best strikers around. He did not get any goal but he was linking Madrid’s play with his effortless technique. Benzema was constantly drifting, making it difficult for the Atletico defense to keep up with him. This is his bread & butter and there are only a few that can link play with such magnificence & efficiency. The French striker made his 528th appearance for Los Blancos on the night, overtaking Roberto Carlos to become the non-Spanish player with the most appearances for the club.
One moment in the 37th minute of the game showed what he is about. Real won possession in front of their box and were looking to beat the press and counter. Lucas Vazquez played a pass into Benzema on the left side. The pass was for Vinicius Jr but the Brazilian left it for the striker and darted head. Benzema’s delicate return to Toni Kroos forced Atletico to press and they tried to use the touchline to defend. Their press could not prevent him though, Kroos passed the ball back to him and Benzema found a pass through at least 4 Atletico players. The pass found the now advanced Vazquez and Real went off on their counter. Benzema would still collect the ball to influence the final stage of the move, squaring to Luka Modric before the Croat set up a cross for Vazquez.
The move outlines the importance of the striker. Benzema is essential to build-up, essential to creating, and essential for goals. He produced a wonderful left-footed strike that Jan Oblak saved and he was important for everything in the final phase.
Luka Modric, Toni Kroos & Casemiro Rewind the Years
Luka Modric is 35! Ha! Alongside his usual buddies Toni Kroos and Casemiro, Real controlled the middle of the park against Atletico. Casemiro got the first goal too, jumping highest to meet a Toni Kroos corner kick. Their coach praised their performances in the middle of the park, claiming that they are still at the same level as when they won 3 consecutive UEFA Champions League titles. Modric’s effervescence is essential in probing midfield and defenses. Toni Kroos’ tempered passes control the game with Casemiro behind to protect and occasionally venture forward. It was a quintessential performance from a trio replete with experience and quality to handle such games.
Simeone Shows His Distrust of Joao Felix
1 goal down but still in the game Diego Simeone decided to pull his club’s highest goalscorer and creator Joao Felix in the 60th minute. Joao Felix did not appreciate it either, lashing out as he sat down. Simeone’s move reeks of distrust. But why? Why distrust a young man playing the best football of his life? If the Argentine coach does not show him trust in these key moments, how will he become accustomed to the high-level performance he expects from him? This season, Joao has been a constant source of magic for Atletico, scoring 5 goals and providing 2 assists. No player in La Liga has more goal contributions. He has also created 5 big chances in the league and when you add this to his 3 goals in the Champions League, you can deduct that he has definitely been Atletico’s best player.
So why then did Simeone pull him out? Why?
Simeone’s Cautiousness Costs Him (Again)
This season, Atletico Madrid has been garnering praise for the attacking football they are playing. The revival of Marcos Llorente as a right-sided midfielder and the adaptation of Joao Felix has made them a very dangerous proposition while retaining the defensive fortitude Diego Simeone and his men have been known for. However, against Madrid, all that attacking intent collapsed as Simeone played with caution. Atletico did not register a shot on target till the 80th minute when Saul Niguez drew a save from Thibaut Courtois. Simeone played a cautious game and his side paid for it with a disappointing game despite retaining the first position on the table with a game in hand. This is a sign that Simeone is not married to this attacking system that they are playing. His decision to reset to default was his undoing in this game.
O Captain! My Captain!
Sergio Ramos embodies Real Madrid. He is the spiritual leader of the club and when he is around, Real is almost immortal. The Spanish Captain was dominant and imperious against Atletico. He won all his 3 duels on the ground and no one dribbled past him in the game. His pass accuracy of 94% was essential in the build-up phase as Real secured an important clean sheet. If Ramos had been around, you suspect that Champions League qualification would have been a lot smoother seeing as Raphael Varane is not the same without his trusted partner at his side. This was Ramos’ 43rd derby appearance making him the player with the most appearances in the derby. The captain put in a commanding display, shutting Atletico out and keeping a clean sheet for good measure.