Real Madrid earned a huge three points at the Bernabéu on Saturday afternoon, conquering Atlético Madrid 1-0 thanks to a Karim Benzema goal that was made by Ferland Mendy. Here, we look at three questions that this derby answered and three new questions that this game has generated.
1. Would Simeone’s Bernabéu run continue?
Diego Simeone has changed the dynamic of the Madrid derby during his eight years at Atlético Madrid, so much so that Los Rojiblancos hadn’t actually lost a league game at the Bernabéu since the 2012/13 season, back when Jose Mourinho was in charge. Between then and this weekend’s match, there had been six LaLiga derbies at Real Madrid’s home ground – three Atleti wins and three draws. Of course, Real Madrid had won matches in other competitions at home to their rivals in that time, but would this poor run of league results in this fixture continue? The answer was no.
2. How would the five-man midfield work in this one?
Zinedine Zidane’s decision to play five midfielders in the Spanish Supercup semi-final against Valencia was an astute one. For Saturday’s derby, he opted for the same tactic, but this time is wasn’t so successful. Atleti are the kind of team who don’t mind if their opponents have the ball and who can remain compact at the back even as the ball zips around the pitch. That’s what happened in this one, plus it didn’t help that Real Madrid’s passing was much less precise as it was in Saudi Arabia. Zidane, to his credit, realised early on that this wasn’t working and made a double substitution at half time to rectify it by shifting to a 4-3-3.
3. What would the reception be like for Morata?
Barring a Euro 2020 qualifier with Spain against Sweden, this was Álvaro Morata’s first trip back to the Bernabéu since his move to Atlético. It was his first time stepping out in front of the fans who used to support him and who now consider him a traitor for joining the eternal rival. The reception he received was not good, much worse than the reception for Marcos Llorente, who was also back at the Bernabéu. The whistles were loud when Morata’s name was read out, the first time he got the ball, when he was substituted off and, in particular, at one moment in the first half when he collided with Sergio Ramos and went falling towards the ground, with the Bernabéu erupting in delight. There were even chants of “Morata is a rat” from a small section of fans. They’re certainly not happy that their former striker joined Atleti.
1. Are we allowed to start getting carried away with Mendy?
Benzema scored the goal, but it was Mendy’s perfect assist that made the goal. It’s clear by now that Mendy is a better overall left-back than Marcelo, but the one question mark with the Frenchman was with his offensive contribution. Often more cautious than creative, Real Madrid do miss that Marcelo magic in attack when Mendy starts, but in this game the summer signing was also important going forward. He had 64 passes in this game for a 94 percent completion percentage and, excitingly, 28 of his passes – or 44 percent – were forward. Including his one against Getafe, that’s two assists in a month now for Mendy. There were some really nice dribbles too in this game. Can we start getting carried away yet?
2. Should it have been a penalty for Casemiro’s challenge on Morata?
The one moment of controversy from this derby came in the first half in the 33rd minute when Morata went down in the box under the challenge of Casemiro. At first, I thought it was just a moment of jostling between the two players, but the more replays you see the more it looks like Casemiro topples Morata in an illegal manner. So, should it have been a penalty? Probably yes. Now, the non-calls on Varane at the Camp Nou may have evened out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – over a 38-game season, officiating mistakes do tend to even out.
3. Is this the year Oblak loses his Zamora crown?
The Madrid derby is a match between two of the best goalkeepers in the world, if not the best. That’s why we’ve had so many goalless ones in recent times. On Saturday, it was Thibaut Courtois who got the better of Jan Oblak by keeping his 11th clean sheet of the LaLiga season. This means the Belgian has further extended his lead in the rankings for the Zamora Award, the prize given to the shot-stopper with the best goals conceded record each LaLiga season. It’s now 0.53 conceded per game this LaLiga campaign for Courtois, compared to Oblak’s 0.68. After winning the award for four years in a row, this could be the season where Oblak vacates the Zamora throne. Athletic Club’s Unai Simón is in the mix too, but Courtois could be the one to take the award for himself.