The second Madrid derby of the 2020/21 season finished in a 1-1 draw, with Luis Suárez’s early goal cancelled out by Karim Benzema’s late equaliser. This was one of the biggest matches of the season and it created many pre-match questions, while the final outcome now generates even more.
1. Would Benzema make it and who’d start alongside him?
Although Karim Benzema made the squad list, that didn’t mean he was 100 percent going to start. He had only just recovered from an injury and Zinedine Zidane explained in his pre-match press conference that we’d have to wait to see if the Frenchman would be in from the beginning. In the end, he did start and made the difference with the equaliser. Alongside him, we had Rodrygo and Marco Asensio in the starting XI. Both were very ineffective and it was only when they were replaced by Vinícius and Fede Valverde that Real Madrid improved. Valverde was particularly decisive in changing the momentum.
2. Would Atlético be attacking or defensive?
A lot of the pre-match commentary about Atlético came from pundits who seemed to have not watched them this season. Yes, they used to play 4-4-2 every single week. But, now they play a more expansive brand of football and this is why they’ve been able to put smaller teams away and build a lead at the top of the table. So, to me, this was a question where I expected the answer to be that Atleti would indeed be attacking. And they were for most of the game. They scored an early goal, retreated a little while still putting men forward to create quality opportunities and then… in the final 10 minutes, they went into lockdown mode by bringing on Geoffrey Kondogbia. He was supposed to add an extra defensive body, but seemed to simply get in the way and played his part in Real Madrid’s equaliser before giving away a late freekick in a promising position as well.
3. Would Real Madrid make the most of set pieces?
The first derby of the season saw Casemiro score from a corner to send Real Madrid on their way to victory. So, could Real Madrid make the most of set pieces again in this game? Well, no. Despite being the LaLiga team with the most headed goals this season, with 11, Real Madrid didn’t capitalise on their corners and freekicks. Even though Atlético Madrid committed four fouls in what I’d call ‘the Kroos zone’ and even though Real Madrid had six corners, Los Blancos were wasteful, especially so with the stoppage time freekick that Luka Modrić fired over. Atlético, meanwhile, defended these situations very well.
1. Are Courtois and Oblak the best two goalkeepers in the world right now?
Luis Suárez was officially the man of the match, but it might be fair to say that the best two players on the pitch were Thibaut Courtois and Jan Oblak. They made four and seven saves respectively and some of them were sensational, frustrating Suárez and Benzema more than once. Are the two best goalkeepers on the planet both living in Spain’s capital? I think so.
2. Was it a penalty against Felipe?
In the first half, at a Real Madrid corner, the ball hit Felipe’s arm. That’s undeniable. But, does that make it a penalty? That’s the big talking point in Spain in the aftermath of the derby and, believe me, it will be for several days. Let’s look at the actual official handball rules then and not some inaccuracies that are spreading on Twitter. Apart from in a few specific instances, which don’t apply to the Felipe scenario, the rules say that “it is not an offence if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm if the hand/arm is close to the body and does not make the body unnaturally bigger”. To me, that clears it up. Felipe’s arm is close to his body at the moment the ball hits it and it’s in a natural position for a player who has just jumped. For me, and most of the neutrals in the Spanish media, it’s not a penalty.
3. What does this mean for the title race?
Zidane said before this game, as he says before almost every game, that this was a final. If that is the case, then Barcelona ‘won’ this final. The draw sees both of Barcelona’s title rivals drop two points, capping off what has been a good week for them. The current situation is that Atleti lead with 59 points, Barcelona are second with 56 and Real Madrid are third with 54. But, Atleti have one game in hand compared to their two main challengers, a game that will take place this coming Wednesday at home to Athletic Club. All of a sudden, that fixture became extra important.