One trademark thunderous freekick, and one brilliant pass for Ozil to finish; Cristiano Ronaldo decided a very dull derby in Madrid with 2 moments of brilliance.
Atletico Madrid were 8 points ahead of Real while going into the match, but the ‘noisy neighbours’ didn’t show any qualities that bestowed them this lead in the first place. Real continued their streak in the derby and are now unbeaten in 24 against Atletico.
Mourinho was certainly hit by injury woes with Marcelo, Higuain and Essien all out before the game. But still the depth on the bench was evident, as Mou named a more than competitive team. A 4-2-3-1 with Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria behind Benzema, with Khedira and Alonso in midfield in front of Pepe, Ramos, Arbeloa and Coentrao.
Simeone started with a similar team that thrashed Sevilla last week. Mario Suarez came in at the centre of midfield, and Cata Diaz started at an unfamiliar left back position.
Diego Costa, did the shift from 4-3-3 work?
Atleti started the game with a very ambitious 4-4-2 with Diego Costa playing just behind Falcao. Simeone’s tactics could have totally backfired as he lined up a 2 man midfield against Alonso, Khedira and Alonso, but the lacklustre performance of the Real midfield meant that Atleti were not humiliated.
Diego Costa looked to justify his inclusion over Adrian, as he started the game in a very energetic manner. But his positioning was where Simeone’s team lacked; Costa neither played as a connector between the deep Suarez-Gabi pair nor as a proper centre forward pressing the fullbacks. He spent most of the time marking Alonso and running at the Spaniard with the ball. Though this tactic left Alonso with no space and time to distribute to his usual range, it didn’t last long as Alonso fell deep to avoid Costa and Khedira came up as the free man.
This is where Atletico’s formation lacked sense as Khedira was always available for the out-ball from Alonso. Neither Gabi nor Suarez tracked him upfront as they both were concentrating more on Ronaldo and Ozil.
2 V 3 in midfield, Ronaldo comes central
Ozil was supposed to be the man to change the match as he was positioned in the exact same role as Jonas was in the Valencia – Atletico match that Valencia won 2-0. Jonas was able to dominate in the match as Simeone had assigned Tiago to mark him alone and so the rest of the midfield suffered. But here the pair of Gabi and Suarez allowed Ozil to take up the space between the lines behind them and just concentrated on marking out the zone that the German received passes in.
This would have worked perfectly as it would allow Turan and Koke lots of freedom to attack with; except that CR7 came to the party. Ronaldo drifted inside all the time and played much more central than usual. He caused Gabi problems continuously, and the Atletico captain was often pulled deeper in midfield to mark the Portuguese. With Benzema not being at his firing best and Juanfran turning out to be a good reader of Ronaldo’s game, Ronaldo took to attacking through the centre and this opened up space for Ozil; as was seen in the second goal.
Falcao: 1st and 2nd half
Falcao, currently the best striker in the world, was supposed to take to the faltering Real defence with aplomb. But due to Costa’s high-up positioning, Falcao played the second fiddle by standing off the centre backs and waiting for the odd through ball.
But Simeone changed his tactics in second half by identifying Coentrao as the weak link to exploit. He positioned Costa high up on the right on Coentrao, and made the striker use his physicality to hold up the play higher up the pitch. This left all the space for Falcao to run at the heart of Real’s defence, but Pepe and Co. were up for the challenge.
This shift of Costa’s role changed Atletico’s formation to a 4-3-3-ish. Arda played on the left side of the attack, often shifting centrally. This left Koke to slot into a central attacking midfield role and he saw a lot more of the ball now. Koke was able to link up with Costa now and this cost Alonso and Khedira problems, so Ozil dropped deeper. This further pulled out Suarez which created space for Benzema and Ronaldo to run into.
The match was a major disappointment on basis of the high expectations set for it. Mourinho’s little on-field stint before the match is still the most interesting event of the evening. Simeone will be left frustrated by his star Arda Turan’s unnecessary hand-ball that presented Ronaldo with the 1st freekick.
Top of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo
Flop of the match: Arda Turan