When Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid last met in the Spanish capital’s legendary derby match between the historic city rivals back in September, the result was an ugly, defensive, and ultimately scoreless dud.
That’s how these games go. Heading into Saturday’s contest, two of the last four encounters between the sides ended 0-0, with another finishing 1-1. The truth is that Real’s and Atleti’s all-world players often seem more interested in kicking each other rather than the ball, such is the level of animosity between the clubs and their supporters. The lone recent exception was the UEFA Super Club clash last August, when Europa League champs Atletico beat Real 4-2.
Saturday’s tilt, won 3-1 by Real at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on goals by Casemiro, substitute Gareth Bale and longtime captain Sergio Ramos, was a lot more like that one, an entertaining affair from start to finish with more than a little controversy thrown in for good measure. Here are three quick thoughts on Real’s emphatic victory away from home:
Sergio Ramos still has it
Ramos was magnificent. Not only did the veteran center back end up scoring what proved to be the game winner via a penalty after the electrifying 18-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior had been hauled down just inside the hosts’ 18-yard box, he also set up Casemiro’s spectacular opener with a well-won header off a corner.
And he deposited his spot-kick past home keeper Jan Oblak with aplomb:
Ramos has been a mainstay for Real for the better part of 15 years, but he’s somehow become an even more iconic figure at the Bernabeu this season, the first campaign in a decade in which Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t the club’s undisputed headliner. After winning a World Cup and two European Championships with Spain and a haul of club titles with Los Blancos (including the last three Champions League crowns), the 32-year-old seems as hungry as ever.
VAR plays a huge role
Real Madrid fully deserved its win. But had this match taken place just a year ago, the outcome would’ve been different. La Liga joined several other global circuits by introducing video assistant referees this season, and the system was used to review several game-altering incidents on Saturday.
The most contentious was on the visitors’ penalty. The call was made on the field, but upheld even after video showed that the initial contact Atletico defender Jose Gimenez made in fouling Vinicius occurred outside the box. Still the kick was given, apparently because Gimenez clipped the teenager’s trailing leg inside the area a split-second later in the play.
To be fair, VAR Antoine Griezmann’s marvelous equalizer for Atletico, even though it looks as though Vinicius had been fouled earlier in the sequence:
Two other huge calls went against Diego Simeone’s side, however. First former Real forward Alvaro Morata’s deft chip snuffed out because replays determined that he was offside. Then Morata was whistled for a handball after initially claiming a penalty of his own. But while the first decision was debatable, the other two weren’t. That’s unlucky Ateti, but it’s hard to argue that VAR didn’t do it’s job.
Real really rolling now
Ever since losing to Real Sociedad on Jan. 6, Real Madrid has looked like a different team. Manager Santiago Solari has his sqaud on a 7-1-1 run since, with the lone loss coming in the second leg of a Copa del Rey matchup with Leganes that they won 3-1 on aggregate.
This was their most impressive performance of the lot, a statement victory that took place on the field of its greatest adversary. The experience should come in handy in the weeks to come. Real Madrid faces its other hated foe, Barcelona, twice over the next month, with the sides having open their Cup final series with a 1-1 stalemate midweek. If Saturday’s showing is any indication, Real, which jumped back into second place in La Liga for the first time since October with Saturday’s triumph, is already rounding into late-season form.