Tonight at the Alfredo di Stefano, Atletico Madrid fell behind a goal for the first team in this league campaign.
Atletico have been impenetrable this season, and, one could argue, for nearly a decade. This season, as we’ve outlined extensively here on Managing Madrid — of all places — they have improved offensively too. Tonight, none of that offense was apparent, and they conceded the same amount of goals as they have all campaign: two.
That’s the simplified story, the abridged headline. The tactical unfoldment is a bit deeper. Atletico were not bad defensively, but Real Madrid did the right things. They counter-pressed, for one, making it really difficult to Simeone’s men to build out of the back, and it enabled Real to move the Atleti block, somewhat. Toni Kroos, impeccable with his distribution, helped progress the ball, and his quick switches were designed to shift around Atleti’s packed flanks, where both Vazquez and Vinicius Jr had trouble finding space.
In truth, the counter-press was a more of a way of limiting Atletico’s build-up than it was a source of chance creation. In the first half, Atletico were limited to zero key passes, zero shots. Joao Felix, who roamed around the field, was subdued. Atleti had completed just 66% of their passes after 20 minutes. Ferland Mendy (who struggled on the ball, but other wise was good) neutralized Marcos Llorente on the wing. Luis Suarez was a ghost.
Real Madrid’s opening goal came from a corner, where Savic misread the flight of the ball, and Casemiro towered over Herrera .
Diego Simeone made three subs at half-time, introducing Correa, Lodi, and Lemar. Eventually Saul came in for Joao Felix. It wasn’t apparent right away, but Lemar did give Atletico some juice, but couldn’t convert the chances he found himself on the end of. Saul offered long-distance shooting.
Ultimately, Real Madrid weren’t threatened much, and a Dani Carvajal thunderbolt made the second half relatively comfortable.
Both sides safely progressed to the Champions League last 16 with 2-0 victories in midweek, as Real beat Borussia Monchengladbach to win Group B and Atletico Madrid overcame RB Salzburg to finish second to Bayern Munich.
In La Liga, Diego Simeone’s side had won seven consecutive league games going into the derby, conceding just twice in their first 10 La Liga fixtures.
But it was Real who dominated in the early stages and Oblak produced an excellent save to tip Karim Benzema’s shot on the post before Casemiro’s opener.
Simeone responded to a disappointing first half with three changes and his side were much improved after the break, though substitute Thomas Lemar shot agonisingly wide from Marcos Llorente’s low cross after 55 minutes.
That miss proved pivotal, as Carvajal’s powerful attempt doubled Real’s advantage seven minutes later.
Thibaut Courtois produced a good save from Saul Niguez to deny Atletico a late lifeline with their only shot on target, as the visitors fell to a first defeat in 26 league games – since a 1-0 loss in this fixture on 1 February.