As with most local derbies (national derbies such as El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Le Classique between Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain, De Klassieker between Ajax and Feyenoord, etc. excluded), the derby means a little more to one club than the other. While Arsenal always wants to defeat their north London neighbor Tottenham Hotspur, Tottenham usually focuses their year on the north London derby whereas Arsenal usually has higher aspirations. FC Barcelona and Espanyol share the city of Barcelona, but Barcelona sees Espanyol as their little brother they always pick on, whereas Espanyol continually fights for respect from their much bigger neighbors.
Atlético Madrid shares these same sentiments with Espanyol, Tottenham, and the other lesser teams in derbies. While Atlético has won the third-most amount of league championships with nine and the fourth-most Copa del Rey titles with nine in Spanish history, Real looks at los colchoneros as little more than annoying mosquitoes on its alabaster skin.
To Real Madrid’s credit, their record against Atlético Madrid in the last nineteen years has made El Derbi Madrileño into a rivalry in locality only. Since the commencement of the 1992-93 La Liga season, Atlético Madrid has won a total of two matches against Real in the league in thirty-two attempts, one at home and one away in 1999. Even in their triumphant, double-winning year of 1996 when they won both La Liga (their first league crown since 1977) and the Copa del Rey, the Atlético fans still rue the fact that they lost both meetings against Real in that season, who finished a distant seventeen points behind Atlético in a horrid sixth place and missed the UEFA Cup with such unfancied clubs as Tenerife and Espanyol taking those berths.
Even when Atlético suffered the ignominy of relegation in the 1999-00 season for the first time since 1936 (history note: even though Athletic Club de Madrid, as Atlético Madrid was called back then, was relegated, the Spanish Civil War intervened for the next three years, and Real Oviedo, who finished third in La Liga in 1936, was the one who was forcibly relegated to the Segunda División when the league resumed in 1939 because their pitch was unplayable due to General Francisco Franco’s use of Oviedo’s stadium as an ammunition dump), los colchoneros tend to look at that season as the campaign where they did not lose to Real Madrid in a season since the 1978-79 season, winning at the Santiago Bernabéu and drawing at the Vicente Calderón.
While Atlético Madrid’s form has fallen off since the beginning of this season, when they deservedly defeated Inter Milan in the European Super Cup and won their first two La Liga matches to briefly top the table, their confidence heading into the derby certainly did was not lacking. Atlético goalkeeper David de Gea gave Cristiano Ronaldo a backhanded compliment within his comments about the derby:
“Ronaldo is doing great and he is having good fortune in front of goal, whereas we have had bad luck, especially at the back. Real Madrid are doing so well, but then we are doing well too.”
Atlético trainer Quique Sánchez Flores instilled his confidence in his team with his comments to the press in his media session prior to the match:
“We are Atlético Madrid, and we go to the Bernabéu to win. This year, we have self-esteem in place, and our goal is to enter the Champions League. For this, we need things to work and to go our way.”
José Mourinho, with the delightful arrogance he carries himself, downplayed the significance of the derby with his comments in his Saturday press conference:
“It’s not an exam for us. It’s just another game. My teams don’t play to win derbies; they play to win leagues and titles. and to win the championship, you need to win games and points. I want to win tomorrow because we want the points, not because we are playing Atlético or because it is the derby.
Within the first twenty minutes, Real Madrid played the match as if it were just another match, and Atlético Madrid played as if this were a very important match. Advantage Real Madrid.
If Atlético wanted to slow down Real’s rampant attack, circumstances prevented Quique Sánchez Flores from presenting his best defensive line. Luís Perea picked up his fifth yellow card of the season last round against Almería, which meant a one-match ban, and Tomáš Ujfaluši moved from right back into central defense to cover Perea. Juan Valera replaced Ujfaluši at right back, and while Valera can play well when he goes forward, he is more like a right winger, and many times, Valera suffers an allergy for defending. Talented but still green central defender Álvaro Domínguez came in for Diego Godín after Godín underwent an emergency appendectomy a week ago.
In a span of six minutes, Real exposed this makeshift defense and scored twice to relieve any tension that they might have held prior to the match. Ricardo Carvalho joined in the attack from central defense in the 13th minute, and after Ángel di María’s attempted through ball to Carvalho came off Ujfaluši’s arm and diverted perfectly to Carvalho’s feet, he made no mistake as he slotted it past de Gea to the left near post.
Six minutes later, Domínguez clearly pulled Cristiano Ronaldo down to set up a dangerous free kick, although referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz initially hesitated to blow his whistle. Ronaldo’s “performance” against AC Milan when he clutched his face in agony after Milan fullback Ignazio Abate raised his arm at his upper chest certainly came into Mateu Lahoz’s mind for a split second before acknowledging the foul. From the free kick just outside the right border of the penalty area, Mesut Özil curled his low free kick to the left far post, hoping to find a runner at that far post, and de Gea was frozen solid as he watched Özil’s effort nestle into the side netting without any touch.
Although Atlético would come close on a few occasions, with Diego Forlán pelting the post on a first-time volley attempt and José Antonio Reyes testing Iker Casillas with a couple of powerful curlers with his sweet left foot, Atlético simply was not good enough in any facet of the game to match Real Madrid, and the 2-0 fulltime score flattered los rojiblancos to a certain extent.
With the Monday night football match between Sevilla and Valencia yet to be played, a Sevilla win or draw could drop Atlético to eighth in the table, and they cannot complain about their position. In defense of this mediocre record, Atlético has already played all the top tier teams in Spanish football: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Villarreal, Valencia, and Sevilla, and only against Barcelona were they in the friendly confines of the Vicente Calderón. In addtion, their next ten La Liga fixtures features only two teams that are currently in the top half of the ladder: -4 goal difference Espanyol at home and surprising and plucky Mallorca at home.
They could easily gain many points in this stretch and play themselves back into consideration for a Champions League spot, but against the toughest teams in La Liga, there is something missing that many can see in plain sight. Quique Sánchez Flores does not see too many problems as he stated in his post-match comments:
“We have been good, and the result has not done us justice. Two isolated moments have changed the game, but I have nothing to say to my players. All we needed was a goal, and we would have been in the game. I have not seen a lack of intensity from my players. We leave the Bernabéu after a very serious game after two early goals and know that we rebuilt after that moment. We have forcefully demonstrated that we can compete with Real Madrid, even with two goals against.”
Whether he made these statements in denial or to raise his players’ spirits, what Atlético lacks in abundance is a sense of belief in themselves and what they do on the pitch. They did raise their game after conceding two early goals, but this was more a function of Real Madrid easing the pressure off Atlético and going into cruise mode.
As much as Atlético made clear of their frustration of a lack of a penalty call on Xabi Alonso’s handball after Sergio Agüero smashed his shot that came of Alonso’s arm from less than a yard away, that moment in the match clouds the real issue of belief, and they will likely cling on to that moment as one that would have turned the match in their favor and forget the massive gaps that the midfield and the defense left for Real Madrid to exploit throughout the match. Diego Forlán’s stellar European and World Cup form from last season and summer has not translated into this season, and the paucity of rest has caught up with Forlán. Without the telepathic and lethal combination of Agüero and Forlán combining at their best, Atlético Madrid cannot make up for their chronic defensive woes.
Before the match, a banner that spanned one side of the Santiago Bernabéu displayed the Grim Reaper with the message “Esto es Madrid” (This is Madrid). Real has ripped the soul out of Atlético Madrid for so long that Atlético cannot rebut that statement. The Fountain of Neptune was empty last night, and until Atlético tightens up in the back, the Fountain of Neptune will remain scarce of colchoneros after Real Madrid matches for years to come.
Fueras de Juego
- Aythami Artiles must have invoked the spirit of Franz Beckenbauer preceding Deportivo de La Coruña’s match at Levante, as the sweeper in Miguel Ángel Lotina’s newly formed five-man defense scored Depor’s second goal with a curling aplomb that Beckenbauer would stand and applaud. With this five across the back strategy, the Galicians have won two consecutive matches against Espanyol and Levante to pull themselves out of the relegation zone, and while they will likely be bogged down in the relegation fight throughout the season, Lotina’s last stand to save his job has worked in the short-term, and no one would be happier with Lotina’s success than Depor chairman Augusto Lendoiro, whose relationship with Lotina is almost father-son like.
- Real Zaragoza notched their first win of the season with a stirring fightback against Mallorca with ten minutes remaining. A goal from Nicolás Bertolo in the 84th minute and a Gabi penalty in the sixth minute of stoppage time gave los maños a win the fans at La Romareda will remember for years to come. Referee José Paradas Romero correctly whistled for the penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time after Gabi’s shot struck José Luís Martí’s arm inside the box, but the controversy stems from Paradas Romero’s decision not to blow the whistle after Mallorca sent it out of play after the four minutes of scheduled stoppage time had passed. Paradas Romero felt there was still time for Zaragoza to take the throw-in and let the buildup transpire, and Zaragoza took advantage and got the penalty call. Zaragoza is still a top candidate to fall to the Segunda División, but the fashion in which they won their first match of the season could be a buoy to save themselves.
- After Athletic Bilbao took the early lead against Villarreal with a Fernando Llorente header, Villarreal stormed back with the heart of a champion with four goals and a display of football that would rival Barcelona or Real Madrid on any day. While Athletic has plenty of young talents and lion-hearted men such as Gaizka Toquero, Carlos Gurpegui, and Pablo Orbaiz, they would be near the bottom of the table without the presence of Llorente up front to create and score. With the big European clubs setting up to pounce with a €30 million plus offer for Llorente, the Athletic scouts are already searching for the next Llorente as the club figures out who will take the load off Llorente from match to match.