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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 3 - 0 Atletico Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo puts the team on his back, and Real Madrid earn the perfect result.

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: First Leg Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Ronaldo’s hat-trick encapsulated a perfect night for Real Madrid. Here’s our quick reaction to the game. More to come: Player ratings, tactical review, post-game podcast, and my column tomorrow which will dissect the details of this game.

If ever there was a badass result to take into the Calderon after a testy first leg, it was this. Three goals, and a bloody clean sheet — the latter of which was universally doubted of a team that’s leaked goals at the most unideal of times all season.

But Real Madrid held their focus until the end, perhaps surprisingly. Unlike the Derbi in April, where Real Madrid dictated possession and looked in control, only to look vulnerable in a moment that Greizmann took advantage of, Real Madrid dialled in and controlled their fate as you would expect from a team like them to do. Indeed, they learned from that last Derbi — they fended off the ripples thrown at them, zipped up the vertical channels, and put their cleats on Atletico’s throat (metaphorically, of course).

For once, Zidane won’t have to come up with explanations in the post-match presser on why Real Madrid dropped their focus when they shouldn’t have. For once, they kept a clean sheet — and against an opponent who’s most comfortable in their defensive shell, not conceding an away goal could mean everything for them.

Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane were immense, as they typically are on these European nights. Their distribution out of the back was like a calming breeze, wafting over the Bernabeu and masking even Casemiro’s inadequacy with the ball with complete serenity. They both were bulwarks defensively, too. Ramos helped double-down on Marcelo’s flank, and the ageless Ronaldo did too — tracking when he needed to and ensuring Atletico don’t have their way on the Brazilian’s flank.

Ronaldo, man. It’s impossible to put into words what he is. That there was ever talk about him not being part of the XI should be regarded as a criminal act in every country on earth. That I ever considered jettisoning him last season to make room for young developing talent is blasphemous on its own.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick is just an additional asterisk on his unparalleled and science-defying career; and the asterisk tonight will read something like “*159th hat-trick where Ronaldo has put the team on his back when the stakes were at their highest. For further reading, please see ‘shit GOATS do’, page 49”.

Ronaldo encapsulated a demolition and perfect result, but there are plenty of other interesting stories intertwined in this memorable European night. For one, some of the shade surrounding the ‘A’ team (to be clear, there isn’t really any such thing. As Zidane said, there is only ‘one’ team) should finally dissipate; with players like Modric, Kroos, Ramos, Varane, and Ronaldo (the wing-backs were never in doubt) being incisive and influential. Real Madrid has one foot into Cardiff now, and an away goal at the Calderon (there hasn’t been a single game this season where Real Madrid have failed to score) would land them in Wales with both feet.

This was a huge result, and as the game unfolded, I was reminded why I was semi-relieved to see Atletico over Juve and Monaco when the draw was made. A Madrid Derbi was always going to be the best chance to get into a threshold of comfort without suffering too much on the counter-attack. Juve and Monaco both have higher octane schemes, and would have been much more difficult to deal with over two legs.

Three Miscellaneous Notes

  • A fantastic start where Real Madrid set the tone. We’ve asked all season for the team to be ‘more imposing and less reactionary’. Today, we got it. It wasn’t perfect on the pitch, to be sure, but we’ll break this down more as we dive into more coverage tonight and tomorrow.
  • Benzema needs a shorter leash, at this point. He just isn’t dishing out the production the team needs from him consistently.
  • Koke was a dumpster fire today, which was part of the reason Atletico looked so defanged coming back on the counter. He struggled completing passes all game, and that completely undid Atletico’s transition in attack.

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