By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
This derby was supposed to be different. Atletico Madrid arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu with an eight-point advantage over fierce rivals Real, while Jose Mourinho’s men had lost at Betis last weekend and looked ripe for the beating. In the end, however, derby day in the Spanish capital brought an all-too familiar result for the red and white team – yet another disappointing defeat.
Atletico had failed to beat Madrid in a competitive fixture since 1999, but Diego Simeone had spoken of passion, commitment and guts on Friday, prior to the short trip across the city to the Bernabeu. But those qualities were conspicuous by their absence in Saturday’s match.
Meanwhile, at his pre-match press conference on Friday, Jose Mourinho told journalists that fans could jeer him if they so wished, and that he would appear on the pitch at 21:20. As he strolled along the sidelines, the Portuguese did indeed receive some whistles from around 100 fans at the Bernabeu, but most backed their coach and got behind their team, too.
Atletico began reasonably well, but as soon as Cristiano Ronaldo had blasted a fantastic free-kick past Thibaut Courtois, there was only one team in it. The Portuguese shook the frame of the goal on a further two occasions, but assisted Mesut Ozil for the clincher and marked a timely return to form after three games without scoring.
It was by no means a classic game, but Ronaldo’s performance was the brightest note of the night for a Madrid side who showed they still have the stomach for a fight – and that bragging rights in the capital remain theirs despite an indifferent campaign so far in La Liga.
Mourinho’s men had been eight points adrift of Atleti at the beginning of the day, but that’s now five and Simeone will now hope his team can produce a better display when they travel to leaders Barcelona in two weeks.
On Saturday’s evidence, however, the Catalans will have little to worry about. Mark Radamel Falcao as efficiently as Pepe was able to do last night and their principal threat is snuffed out. Quite what will happen if – and when – the Colombian finally ups and leaves the Vicente Calderon must be a huge concern for the capital club.
Simeone must be enormously disappointed, too. This was their derby, the big night, the game in which Atletico had the chance to show the world how they could match Madrid and make a name for themselves in La Liga. But not only did they fail miserably … they also failed to turn up.
The result sees Barcelona extend their lead to six points over Atletico (while the Catalans remain 11 above Madrid), having earlier thrashed Athletic Bilbao 5-1 with their latest swashbuckling show at Camp Nou.
Tito Vilanova’s team have picked up an incredible 40 points out of a possible 42 so far in the Primera Division and Lionel Messi’s two goals leave him just one behind Bayern Munich legend Gerd Muller on 84 strikes in a calendar year. Once he surpasses the German great, Messi may never be caught. Barca probably won’t be either, but if the Catalans are hauled back in the title race, it’s unlikely to be by Atletico.
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