The Pre-Game Entertainment
Jose Mourinho, as promised in his press conference, went out to face the crowd 5 minutes before his team took the field to take the full force of its displeasure – milking the moment for everything it was worth. He received a standing ovation with most of the stadium (that part of it that was already full) cheering him, most particularly from the direction of the Ultra Sur, for whom he is an idol.
The First Half: Ronaldo’s Class Shines Through
Madrid, according to Marca, had spent the week practicing playing a wide game. And they did – straight on the chalk. Unfortunately, so did Atleti’s fullbacks and wingers. Both teams played a high line, which gave the game an oddly inverted look, as though the camera was filming from the wrong direction. Neither goalkeeper was much troubled.
The first 15 minutes were characterized by nerve and sloppy passing, with Pepe and di Maria particularly culpable. Di Maria’s repeated attempts to dribble past his markers always ending in a give-away and an Atleti break, and Pepe made a couple of sloppy and badly directed passes out of the back in the initial stages of the game.
At the other end, Falcao was ineffective, thanks to Sergio Ramos’s stellar defensive work. Unfortunately, Karim Benzema was similarly rendered anonymous by Atleti’s perfect man-marking. With di Maria rarely getting him the ball and Benzema marked out of the match, Özil’s game in these initial stages was less than usually effective.
The game was also ill-tempered, with players on both sides exaggerating contact and in high spirits for the match. There was no love lost between Diego Costa and Sergio Ramos in particular.
Generally speaking, Atleti looked the likelier team to score. But this is a derby, and Cristiano Ronaldo can always be depended on for the spectacular in the big games. An unusually gentle struck, but perfectly accurate and sloping free kick on the quarter hour from the world’s greatest player and Madrid were ahead, arguably against the run of play.
The Second Half: Madrid Find Some Space, Mesut Özil Adds To His Numbers
With Atleti forced to press forward and abandon much of their game-plan to find the equalizer, Real Madrid had better chances to make their pin-point counter-attacks. Cristiano Ronaldo nearly got his second goal of the night from a free kick conceded by Juanfran that required Atleti’s keeper to make a save.
But it was Özil, a player who has consistently performed against Atleti since he scored against them on his derby debut in October 2010, who was to get the goal. A scramble in the box after a quick counter-attack, a pass from Cristiano Ronaldo, and Özil scored his 4th goal in a Madrid derby. Coupled with his 5 assists against them in 2 and a half seasons, this player can be proud of his record against Madrid’s greatest rivals. With his confidence rising and more and more space opening on the pitch, Özil sent in 2 dangerous through balls to Benzema in the space of 20 seconds in minute 74. In the 78th minute he made another perfect scoring opportunity for Cristiano Ronaldo, which unfortunately hit the bar.
Callejon then came on for di Maria, which meant that Real Madrid were better able to hold onto possession. Karim Benzema earned a free kick on the edge of the penalty area in minute 75 – and Cristiano Ronaldo’s third excellent free kick of the night hit the crossbar.
The final 15 minutes of the match were no longer a demonstration of Madrid’s excellent defensive work, but of their attack, which was so relentless it pinned Atleti, who desperately needed to score, back in their own half of the pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s individual class overcame all difficulties in a dull first half. His free kick, perfectly taken, opened the scoring against the run of play. And with space opening up and quick counter-attacks possible, Özil, a player who has been struggling of late, shone in the second half and confirmed, once again, that he is a big-game player. He left the pitch to a standing ovation from a grateful and supportive crowd. Pepe and Ramos were, ultimately note-perfect when it came to dealing with Falcao, closing down one of the world’s most dangerous forwards. He had no shots on goal and was largely anonymous.
Perhaps not the prettiest game you will ever see, but a tactical success, with good individual performances. And Özil's numbers aside, Ronaldo has now been directly involved in the last 8 goals scored against Atleti, assisting or scoring every one.
Bravo Madrid. Atleti’s losing streak continues for yet another game...