Real Madrid 1 - 2 Atletico Madrid: Atleti Are Champions As Madrid Reflect On The Season

David Ramos

Madrid's set-piece and disciplinary anarchy colour the match and the season.

We begin by congratulating Atletico Madrid for a fine year and on their cup win.

The Line-Up

Madrid lined up with what was, arguably, not the strongest available line-up. Diego Lopez in goal was expected. Pepe was dropped in favour of Raul Albiol in central defence next to Sergio Ramos. Michael Essien was placed at right-back, Fabio Coentrao at left-back. In the midfield, Mourinho went with three central midfielders in Luka Modric, Sami Khedira, and Xabi Alonso. Mesut Ozil was placed (again) on the right. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema completed the lineup.

On the one-hand it was understandable, Arbeloa has not played since his moment of gross indiscipline against Galatasaray. Angel di Maria, the right-winger in what received wisdom would have as Mourinho's best line-up has simply had a bad season. Luka Modric is in form. Pepe was likely being punished for his press-indiscretions two weeks ago, and has also not had a great season.

On the other hand, players patently not in-form were in the line-up (Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira) and their inclusion forced a change in the way in which Madrid lined up.

Mourinho, who was not to be seen on the sidelines and instead stayed in his seat until deciding to berate the linesman (and being sent off for his pains) was entirely passive. Offering no direction and apparently no tactical changes at half-time. Curiously, there were no substitutions until extra-time, which may have been because he was sent off and unable to direct his assistant coaches. We will never really know. By the time extra-time rolled around at least one of the changes (Arbeloa for Modric) was probably forced by a niggle to one of the players. All three changes were made at once, and the team never recovered what little chemistry it managed.

The Game - The Early Exchanges

Both sides scored in the first half, Madrid taking the lead in the entertaining early exchanges off an outstanding header from Cristiano Ronaldo off Ozil's corner when the match still looked to be an interesting one for neutrals to watch. Both teams played with little inhibition.

Scoring early blunted Madrid's attack, however. Atleti are strongest down the right, with Diego Costa. That means that most of Madrid's attempts at breaking came from Coentrao and Ronaldo on the left whenever Madrid recovered possession on that side of the pitch. Karim Benzema, constantly drifting leftward, added to the crush. Cristiano Ronaldo was actually fairly ineffective after the first 20 minutes, never being allowed to get comfortable on the ball. On the right, Essien (who had a fine defensive display as it happens) is no real attacking force and Ozil ahead of him was starved of the ball.

In the centre, Modric played a tidy game and was very competent, but his performance mainly stood out only because it compared so favourably to how poorly Alonso and Khedira played; and he was badly hindered by Karim Benzema's initial anonymity. Alonso had no pace and no touch and was easily pushed off the ball. His trade-mark long-passing and his free kicks were poor and over-hit. Sami Khedira, usually so intelligent in his positioning, seemed to have no idea what his role was in the line-up. His almost non-existent finishing meant his runs into the box lead to nothing. The crowded left and centre meant an untidy game, meant Modric was playing with no outlet. It was not the performance of an outstanding number 10; he played no memorable passes in the final third. But an outstanding number 10 needs an outlet and Benzema was not providing one.

As noted, scoring early made Madrid complacent, content to sit in their own half and soak up pressure. The team is not skilled enough at controlling games however, and (regardless of whether Pepe can be said to be in form) Albiol provided the newspaper analysts with plenty of fodder when his appalling mistake at the centre line in losing possession out of position lead to Atleti's goal.

Regulation Time: Real Madrid 1 - 1 Atletico Madrid

With the game tied, Madrid suddenly looked very bright in attack and there were moments of real attacking sparkle in the match after half-time. Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo (off a stunning,deceptive free kick) and Mesut Ozil all hit the bar. In the most impressive move, Ronaldo slalomed through Atleti's defence, fed in Benzema (who really should have scored from close range). The ball hit the bar and Ozil's shot on the rebound forced an almost accidental goal-line clearance.

Mourinho was sent off shortly afterwards.

There were no substitutions before the 90th minute.

Extra Time

Atleti scored off a corner, with typically putrid set-piece defending from Real Madrid. To blame the defence too much detracts from Atleti's game, however. They had fewer chances than Real Madrid, but Atleti put them away when it counted, which is the sign of a winning team.

Courtois deserves special mention. His improbable final save off Mesut Ozil's angled effort in the final moments was termed by Sky Sports as Europe's "save of the season."

Madrid could not equalize to force the game into penalties.

Atleti won the game 1-2.

A Note On Discipline

The referee had a bad grip on the game, but neither side particularly covered itself in glory. Madrid derbies are always emotional and after the first hour, the constant stop-start-stop-start of the game was largely attributable to the fact that neither team had an outstanding central midfield performance in that neither team controlled the match. So to prevent either attack from breaking, both teams were forced into fouling. Nearly all of Madrid's cards came from players fouling as a last resort because they could not prevent an Atleti break.

Nevertheless, there was an element of indiscipline and anger to Madrid's offences that Atleti did not have and which resulted in them playing a calmer and more collected game. Cristiano Ronaldo's sending off typified how badly Madrid had lost the plot. Ronaldo is not a dirty player. And yet, he could have been sent off before he was for deliberately kicking out at Juanfran.

There are many things to take away from this final, some of which seem to typify the season in which it took place. To lose on a set-piece was almost appropriate. But mainly, a coach who is sent off cannot expect discipline from his players. A coach has to lead, and in a cup final (an emotional,highly-charged event) has to be on-hand to direct his players and encourage them. Mourinho's only moment in the spot-light (he had an oddly passive match, otherwise) was to be sent off for the first time this year. A moment of rage after giving the impression, for most of the match, not to give a damn. He had almost managed the whole season without being sent to the stands.

A real pity - and not only for the neutrals who watched what looked like an entertaining match descent into a rabble-rousing mess.

Once again, congratulations to Atletico Madrid for their win.

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