Blog by: Anirudh
In one of the biggest matches on the Spanish football calendar, Real Madrid hosted capital rivals Atletico for what was one of the most keenly contested Clasicos in recent years.
A single goal from Diego Costa grabbed victory for the Colchoneros at the Bernabeu, leaving Atletico jointly at top with Barcelona after seven wins in as many games. Madrid, meanwhile, drop five points behind their two biggest rivals and were a shadow of their usual bombastic selves.
But what will both teams take away from Saturday’s clash? Lessons will have to be learned, more than anything for the team in white.
Bale Needs More Time
Madrid’s record signing, Gareth Bale, finally made his debut in front of the Bernabeu faithful. The Wales international entered in unfamiliar circumstances, trying to rescue the game with the Blanco down, 1-0, at halftime.
Against Atletico, though, Bale looked well off the pace. The trademark bursts of pace were of course present, and the ex-Tottenham star almost won a penalty with one of his surges towards goal. The final ball and connection with teammates was all but missing, however, and he will need to learn fast to start justifying his transfer fee.
Koke and Costa’s Brilliance
The focus for Atletico Madrid throughout the game, and especially after opening the scoring, was to preserve their defence and restrict Real. Even then, their attack looked, by far, the most likely to contribute further to the scoresheet, thanks to the demon duo of Koke and Diego Costa.
The midfielder set up Costa to perfection early on with a neat flick expertly converted for the game’s only goal. After that, they kept harrying Madrid in defence and could both have scored again; Diego Lopez denied Costa one-on-one, while a brilliant Koke shot struck the bar.
Atletico Are Catching Up
Few major derbies are quite as one-sided as that of the Spanish capital. Prior to Saturday, Atletico had not beaten their illustrious neighbours in a Liga clash for no less than 14 years.
Things are changing, however. That agonising 2-1 win in the Copa del Rey final, with goals from Arda Turan and Miranda, removed some of the mystique of the Clasico Madrileno, giving Atletico’s players the chance to approach the fixture as one more match.
Winning in La Liga for the first time since 1999, and in the Bernabeu no less, is another great step forward for the Red and White.
Simeone Is A Perfect Fit
Argentine tactician Diego Simeone may not produce teams as tantalising to watch as his compatriots Gerardo Martino or Marcelo Bielsa. But the current Atletico Madrid coach brings an organisation and tenacity to his sides which makes them very difficult to beat indeed.
Despite only enjoying a miserly 37 percent of possession on Saturday, per Goal.com, Atletico matched their rivals throughout the match and were formidable on the counter, having, by far, the best chances over the 90 minutes.
The dark-suited, taciturn former Madrid player marched solemnly to the dressing room, while his players celebrated history in the making, but his contribution was just as vital.
Benzema Unsuccessful Upfront
The sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli opened the door for Karim Benzema to claim his spot as undisputed No. 9 in the Madrid side. But that piece of business, similar to the deal that took Mesut Ozil to Arsenal, is starting to look rather ill-advised from the Spanish club’s point of view.
While Higuain’s three goals in the opening six matches have helped Napoli to the top of the Serie A standings, the Frenchman has floundered. His non-appearance midweek against Elche was pardoned by Cristiano Ronaldo’s pair, but not even the Portuguese star could hide his teammate’s deficiencies in front of the net.
Out of form and without a goal in five Liga matches, Benzema’s place as centre-forward is starting to look very precarious indeed.
Madrid Need To Improve
Along with Atletico, Barcelona fans would have been left very satisfied indeed with Saturday’s result. After just seven games, the 100 percent record of the Catalan club leaves Madrid five points adrift, and the nightmare of a repetition of the 2012/13 season looks a distinct possibility.
Playing without a recognised playmaker and being painfully disorganised up front, Madrid need to pull themselves together and fast. In just three weeks’ time, a visit to Camp Nou and Barca looms. And if results continue to follow the form book up to then, a defeat and the prospect of falling eight points behind would represent a massive hurdle to overcome.