Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid 1 - 0 (Benzema). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game quotes, three questions / three answers, post-game podcast, tactical review, and more.
For the second consecutive Derby, Zidane opted to field five midfielders against Atletico Madrid. What worked so well against a Valencia side in the SuperCopa (a Valencia team who put zero pressure on the midfield, to be sure), was scouted thoroughly and annulled by Diego Simeone again.
Atletico are one of the best defensive teams on earth, and have been for the last decade. Their consistency on that end of the field makes defense routine for them. They close passing lanes and snuff out space just when you think you have it. Real Madrid had good movement in the half-spaces in the first half, but it didn’t matter.
There is another way to look at this: This is Atletico. They will frustrate you regardless of what formation or scheme you play. Switching to a 4-3-3 (or 4-whatever-whatever) doesn’t guarantee you success against Cholo’s side, and we have a huge sample size to fall back on to support this.
Still, all Real Madrid managed to muster in the first half was two chances — both created by Toni Kroos for Sergio Ramos. One of them, to be sure, was clear-cut — an expertly calculated cut-back which Ramos should’ve at least tested Oblak on. Ramos made runs into the box often, even in open play. That was almost the entire extent of the offense in the first 45 minutes.
Atletico defended well. And, though Carvajal and Valverde were both good on the flank (Valverde, who is generally deployed as a right winger in this scheme, does really well in that role for it not being his ideal position), Lodi and Saul were great defensively. Just like the Derby at the Wanda earlier this season, the two teams cancelled each other on the flank.
At half-time, Zidane reacted. He took off Toni Kroos and Isco for Vinicius Jr and Lucas Vazquez. That makes sense, on paper, against Atletico. Packing the midfield against Atleti just sucks the creative life out of the game — exactly what Atleti want. It was too comfortable for Simeone’s men. Real Madrid needed a left-wing presence to combine with Mendy on the left side, something they didn’t get with Isco sitting deeper and roaming in spaces that Atletico had locked down. Vinicius’s tempo completely changed the game. Like last season, he was a handful for Atleti to deal with. He also unlocked the match with a through-ball to Ferland Mendy. Beautiful sequence all around:
That was Benzema’s first goal in a Madrid derby at the Bernabeu ever.
Let’s be clear: Even with the formation change, this was far from a comfortable game. Atletico were generally kept at bay by Real Madrid’s transition defense, but they also sniffed danger and there was a sense they could score at any moment. Yannick Carrasco’s entrance late in the second half also gave Atletico some verticality.
Ultimately, this was about what we predicted: Either a draw, or a narrow Real Madrid win. Luckily, it was the better option of the two. We’ll have a lot of talking points to break down in the post-game podcast: Fede’s performance, the contrast in halves and tactics, and more. Stay tuned.