5 Talking points from El Derbi madrileño
A virtuoso performance it was, and boy did he eclipse the others on the pitch by a country mile. His play last night was a combination of direct running and clever link up play. His tracking back and defending was the best one has probably seen him exhibit. He provided a constant outlet for his team while on the attack. His free kicks were out of the world, and that was because he toned them down. He reduced their speed, while going for more curl and placement, and it resulted in two exquisite set pieces, both that gave Courtois no chance at all. One went into the corner of the goal, while the other bounced right off the crossbar. He set up Ozil with an opportunistic pass once his pass to Benzema was cut off. He lured defenders into fouls with his dribbling and ball control, and was a thorn in their flesh all night long. He missed the opportunity to round off his performance with another goal, as he saw an effort bounce off the post. All in all, he was unplayable last night, and hopefully, the Ballon d’Or beckons. I guess all that sadness he had inside of him at the beginning of the season is long gone. Going by his reactions to his misses last night, he might just sink into depression, if he does not win the Ballon d’Or. Let’s just hope he does win it.
That definitely was not why Simeone put him out on the pitch from the start. All Costa did was try and incite a reaction from either of Real’s combustible central defensive duo. He had one useful touch, when he passed the ball to Falcao who forced a save out of Casillas. But that was it. After that, it was all about shoving others, leaving your foot in after tackles, hands in people’s faces. It was disgraceful, beyond a point, and frankly childish. Well done Mr. Costa, point taken. You truly are the thug you want to be.
A lot has been made out of Atletico’s performance in La Liga this season. Questions were asked by everyone, wondering if they were going to be the ones to break the stranglehold that Barcelona and Real have had over the league. Their rise to prominence this season has been based on defensive solidity, and a fluid midfield feeding their lifeline, Radamel Falcao. The trio of Turan, Koke and Costa were completely lackluster in their play, and that left Falcao bereft of the ball, and hence goalscoring opportunities. The defence was forced into mistakes regularly by Real’s pressing, and the warm-up injury to Filipe Luis did not help. Adrian’s absence from the starting 11 was felt as his pace and trickery on the wings was sorely missed. They just were surprised by Real’s pressing and hustling, and continuously ended up on the backfoot, trying to retrieve possession, while defending for their lives. They forced one proper save out of Casillas the entire game, that says it all. A couple of weeks from now, they face Barcelona, and the outcome of that match will be decisive in understanding what they are : A force to be reckoned with or the new “Best of the Rest”. For now though, they still haven’t beaten Real since 1999.
Granted, the first half was dire, with the only talking points being Ronaldo‘s free kick and Costa’s antics. The second half, though, was a stark contrast. Real stepped it up a notch or two, and Atletico couldn’t handle it. The offensive tempo, coupled with their intense pressing forced errors out of the Atletico players. Ronaldo was consistently the best player on the pitch, and Ozil and Benzema rose to the occasion in the second half. Benzema was very good with his back to the goal, linking up beautifully with the others, his best moment characterized by the turn which befuddled two defenders and leading to a foul on the edge of the box. Ozil was all guile and composure, his best moment being the perfectly weighted defense splitting pass to an onrushing Ronaldo. His loss of form has been an irritant for Mourinho all season, and the Special One would be hoping that this would be the game that triggers a change in fortunes for him, and Real Madrid.
Staying up till almost 5 in the morning, you expect a lot more from the Madrid derby. A clash of cultures and ideologies, and you want to witness an end to end game which keeps you on tenterhooks. Well, that did not happen. A game completely dominated by Real was what we witnessed. What made the game an eyesore were the stupid altercations that kept occurring. The eventual outcome of that was a whole bunch of nothing, and handbags is the term that best describes it. This was an opportunity for the world to take note and agree that the La Liga is not a two team competition anymore, and yet, the game might just have reinforced the existing belief further. In Ramos and Pepe, Real have a combination who can be brilliant one day, and the next day, all that interests them would be getting into a scrap. In a season where they face adversity for the remaining duration of the campaign in order to defend their title, it would benefit them greatly if those two get their act together and acquire some sense of the good kind. So, the weekend finished with Barcelona still 11 points ahead of Real, and Real closing the gap down to Atletico to 5. The element of challenge is what has been missing from Spain for the last few season, and call it wishful thinking, but the hope exists that it might change. This season is not over yet, hopefully.