Having begun my year abroad in Madrid, what better way to get acquainted with the city and the people than to attend the Madrid derby. An intriguing game from so many different perspectives- Atletico Madrd are on fire with 6 wins from 6 prior to the game, Gareth Bale making his home debut, could Madrid get their new look squad playing together after a shaky start?
The game started out as a cagey affair, neither team wanted to take any risks, Madrid couldn’t get their passing game going and in the end the fatal blow was made in the 8th minute. David Villa found space 25 yards from goal, played a neat through ball with the outside of his foot to Diego Costa and the Brazilian who could yet feature for the Spanish National team, finished coolly past Diego Lopez to give the visitors the lead and in the end what turned out to be the winning goal.
This isn’t a match report, more my views so for everyone that watched the game finished 1-0 to the visitors. However there are certain things from the game that I noticed (maybe because I’m an English fan) that made the game sort of surreal.
Firstly the formation that Real Madrid seem to be deploying at the moment isn’t working out. The first choice front 3 of Bale, Isco and Ronaldo behind Benzema looks too static. Each of these players are footballers who naturally drift- Ronaldo likes to switch sides, Bale prefers the left and Isco is a number 10 who will interchange around the front 3. However with the system that Ancelotti uses, the players are too stuck to their position. I only saw Ronaldo switch flanks once during the match, a feature of his game that he used to do so effectively in his Manchester United days with Wayne Rooney. Isco likes to cut in from the left hand side but when he does, Ronaldo also stays on the left so they are very short in the middle. Finally Bale looks uncomfortable being stuck on the right, he tried and failed many times to beat the excellent Atletico left back Felipe Luis so his debut was largely ineffective. In fact one of Madrid’s best periods of play came from a Bale run from the centre into the box before he was failed right on the 18 yard line.
Add to this the complete loss of confidence of Benzema. The guy looks as if he doesn’t want to be playing football. Against Getafe 2 weeks ago he missed 3 sitters. The crowd were furious chanting ‘Morata, Morata’, calling for the young Spaniard to take his place. Madrid fans are not the most forgiving of people and the pressure they are putting on Benzema looks to be taking its toll.
Against Atletico he looked scared to be on the ball, and when he was he just gave it away. Perhaps the fans are a little hard on the Frenchman and its not helping his bad form, but he needs to step up or else Alvaro Morata will soon be Madrid’s leading striker.
Atletico are also an incredibly well drilled football team. Diego Simeone has worked wonders with the players at his disposal. Tiago and Gabi marshaled the midfield and made Khedira and Illaramiendi look very average. Koke and Arda provided width that required Ronaldo and Di Maria/Bale to track back, thus losing some of their attacking freedom.
Defensively Atletico were rarely challenged and up front it was a masterclass from both David Villa and Diego Costa. Villa played almost as a number 10 with Diego Costa bullying and winding up the Madrid players and fans alike. He may not be the most sporting player, but his diving, acting, choice words to the Madrid players did enough to rile them and in the end he had the last laugh with a brilliantly taken finish. Not just that, his hold up play allowed Atletico to move up the pitch and on another day he may have taken a few more of his chances and given them an even more comprehensive win.
Finally, the Madrid fans truly are something else. Unlike in England, the most noise that I heard all night was a display of dissatisfaction against a refereeing decision. The whistles and boos were deafening and 10 times louder than the celebrations for a goal which I had witnessed a week earlier. Also they take no prisoners, Benzema was jeered every touch he made and for every mistake it got worse. Most surprisingly, at the end of the game a small section of fans were chanting ‘Jose Mourinho’- the man who was hated by a large section of the fans for his treatment of the players. Fickle isn’t the word.
Overall the most surprising element of this game for me was just how good Atletico Madrid were. It brought back memories of David Moyes’ Everton side- dogged, defensively disciplined and solid but what Atletico have is a world class strike force to score the goals which are needed to propel them to the top of the league. I honestly would not be surprised to see Atleti finish above Madrid come next May, and for Real they have a lot of work to do. Bale need to find his best position and the movement up front needs to be more fluid. Defensively Real are a nightmare, Pepe is very average and the defensive mentality seems to be shunned- strange under a manager who was known for his solidarity with Milan.
It will be an interesting season for both clubs of Madrid, and in all honesty I hope Atetico come out on top.