Real Madrid had the upper hand until Antoine Griezmann finally had his say.
It looked like Real Madrid were on cruise control and set to win in the Madrid Derby, but Antoine Griezmann and Atlético Madrid weren’t ready to give up just yet. A late, 85th minute goal from Atléti’s top player was enough to win a point for the visitors, leaving Real Madrid frustrated to see their winning streak end, and potentially throwing the La Liga title race just a little bit more open again.
The first half was energetic and exciting, and showed an excellent example of just how much fun a game between two high quality sides can be. Both Real and Atlético were going for the throat early in the match, neither team sitting back to absorb pressure, but rather pressing forward chasing an early goal as strongly as they could.
That opening frame wound up seeing a staggering 18 shots total between the two teams, with 12 from Real Madrid and six from visiting Atléti. Despite that disparity in the ratio of shots, there was little sense that Diego Simeone’s men were bunkering up, as we’ve often seen them do at the Santiago Bernabeu in the past, but rather that they were working to keep Real Madrid off balance to create openings for themselves.
We wouldn’t see a goal until the second half, though, and it would come for the hosts, who came out playing at a blazing pace as soon as the whistle blew to restart the match. They badly upset the balance of Atlético’s midfield and defense in those opening minutes of the half, and a free kick that was served up beautifully by Toni Kroos found the head of Pepe, who curled it just inside the far post and past a reaching Jan Oblak.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) April 8, 2017
That goal seemed to knock Atlético further off balance, and Simeone’s men looked like they lacked the normal lethal edge to their game that’s seen them upset the odds so many times through the years. Zinedine Zidane, though, was happy to see his Real Madrid players controlling the game, especially thanks to extraordinary second half performances from Kroos and Luka Modric, with the two midfielders routinely picking out excellent passes and switching play effectively.
The one real negative note for Real Madrid for most of the second half was an injury to Pepe, who took the brunt of an accidental collision with Kroos and was waving for the trainers even before he hit the ground. The trainers seemed to be paying particular attention to his ribs just under his shoulder, and despite his efforts to continue in the match, it was only minutes later that he was down on the turf again and Nacho was up to replace him.
That injury proved decisive for Atlético before the end of the match, because they figured out very quickly that Antoine Griezmann had a big advantage over Nacho. They repeatedly looked to exploit that edge, and it came good in the 85th minute, with Griezmann finally hammered home a goal after his repeated attempts to score earlier in the match were all just a little bit off.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) April 8, 2017
The result doesn’t help Atlético Madrid in the title chase in La Liga quite yet — they’re still 10 points behind their local rivals in the table, after all — but it does change the title picture just a little bit. It snapped Real Madrid’s long winning streak, and gives Barcelona a chance to move back into first place this weekend. Real still hold a game in hand over Barcelona, but with El Clasico looming, that advantage can disappear in a heartbeat.
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Pepe (Nacho 67’), Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Casemiro, Toni Kroos (Isco 76’); Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
Goals: Pepe (52’)
Atlético Madrid: Jan Oblak; Juanfran, Stefan Savic, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis; Yannick Carrasco (Jose Gimenez 87’), Gabi, Koke, Saul Niguez (Angel Correa 62’); Fernando Torres (Thomas Partey 78’), Antoine Griezmann
Goals: Griezmann (81’)
Three questions we asked
Is Stefan Savic finally back to form?
Six years ago, Stefan Savic made a transfer from Partizan Belgrade to Manchester City, and it looked like he was going to be one of the next top-shelf defenders to come out of eastern Europe. With athleticism, strength, and excellent technical skills, the then-20 year old defender had all the tools to be an excellent player. Savic never made much of an impact with City, though, and moved on to Fiorentina, where it still looked like he could be very good, putting in a number of eye-opening performances in the back for the Italian team — until a series of knee injuries seemed to seriously hamper his development.
On Saturday, though, we saw something extremely promising from Savic — for the first time in years, he moved with his old fluidity and grace and explosiveness, something we haven’t seen from him since the injuries started. He’s still been a good player while he’s been dealing with those injuries, make no mistake, but he’s always lacked that extra dimension that he once had in his game. That dimension was finally back on Saturday, and it showed up in a big way on a massive goal line clearance in the first half that stopped a huge surge of Real Madrid momentum in its tracks.
Is Gareth Bale actually healthy yet?
The Welsh winger has dealt with a couple of different injury issues this season, and while he’s been declared fit and has been back on the pitch since February, there’s just something about his performances that’s been lacking. It’s not just a lack of form, though he’s definitely looked like he’s lacking his usual sharpness — but more than that, it seems like Bale is just missing something from his game that makes one wonder if he’s not quite at full health yet.
Bale has lacked a degree of explosiveness and fluidity in recent weeks that normally comes naturally to him, and it cost Real Madrid repeatedly in this match. He struggled badly to get past Felipe Luis to try and challenge Diego Godin throughout the match, and on the occasions that he did manage to beat Luis, he seemed to be a step or two behind his teammates, with the play already developing away from him. It’s disconcerting to see this kind of struggle from such a talented player, and hopefully whatever it is that’s ailing or affecting Bale gets resolved soon.
When are we going to acknowledge that Jan Oblak is one of the best goalkeepers in the game?
Perhaps it’s unusual to say this about the losing goalkeeper in a huge rivalry clash like this, but it still needs to be said: Jan Oblak is become one of the best goalkeepers in the game right before our eyes. Yes, he and his team were beaten in the Madrid Derby, but Oblak still showed incredible levels of talent and ability in front of the world, levels that few goalkeepers in the game can beat.
Oblak certainly benefits from having a strong defense in front of him, but on Saturday Atlético’s back line lacked a degree of their normal surety, especially in the second half. But whenever he was called into action, Oblak was on the job, using top-notch positioning and reactions to make saves that would be difficult for most other keepers with the greatest of ease. Even on Real Madrid’s goal, it’s difficult to find any real fault in it for Oblak — he was positioned perfectly for the way the free kick was set up and came in, but Pepe’s header that started wide and curled inside the far post is one that a goalkeeper cannot plan for. Even then, he wasn’t that far from making the save, but it was the definition of an unsaveable shot.
If Oblak keeps this up, people won’t be able to deny that he’s one of the best in the world for long — and he’s still just 24 years old. In goalkeeper terms, he’s still just a baby, and it makes you wonder just how incredibly good he can still become.