Real Madrid draw Atletico 0 - 0 at the Bernabeu. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.
The ‘turning point’ in this high-octane, volatile, tense, and locked Madrid derby at the Bernabeu, was when Dani Ceballos came in for an injured Gareth Bale at half-time. Until then, Real Madrid had plenty of the ball; but Atleti did what they do perfectly — show you space then take it away from you, defend the flanks, and play a low-enough block that Gareth Bale has no chance to latch onto through-balls. In fact, Bale was forced to play deeper, and like the first half against Sevilla, the only real chance(s) came from a long-range, solo effort from the Welshman.
Through necessity, Bale had to leave the pitch. Ceballos entered, and when I first saw the sub, I thought that this was an ideal game for the Spaniard. He brings control, unpredictability, and incisiveness. Though his first touch was a giveaway, he completely flipped the dynamic of this match and grew into his surroundings. He led a counter-press, had key interceptions high up the pitch to disarm counters, and looked to either move between the lines without the ball, or continually pick up Asensio and Benzema’s cutting runs.
And that churned the game on its head. With the new scheme, Real Madrid had waves and waves of sustained pressure. They controlled the tempo and created much better chances than closed-down shots from distance.
But this is what Atletico do in a Madrid derby at the Bernabeu — they create little, hold their shape, ride some luck, and come away with a good result. One thing you have to give them credit for is how well they get back in transition. So often in this match, Real Madrid looked like they were through on goal, only to see rojiblanco shirts appear in record time. They denied cross-field switches — particularly in the first half — and Felipe Luis and Juanfran did well defensively against Carvajal and Nacho. (The latter, of which, looked a bit fatigued in the second half, opting not to provide overloads when Real Madrid could’ve used them on that left flank.)
All in all, despite the second-half adjustments (and even a Vinicius Jr cameo!), this was a disappointing result. Sevilla away, and Atletico at home, back-to-back, continue to be a problem for Real Madrid.
There is more to break down in this match, to be sure (one of which is a behemoth in Mariano staying on the bennch. He’s a player who could’ve helped Real Madrid win aerial duels in the box after Bale’s departure and throw some bodies around — particularly on Carvajal’s seven crosses), and we’ll break them down in the coming hours. Generally, Real needed more from Asensio, Modric, and Benzema, and some better passing in key moments. Though, after a string of poor performances, it was good to see Sergio Ramos put in so many key defensive interventions, especially early on, as Real Madrid were trying to find their feet.