A gigantic banner covered one end of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu before the match. On this banner, the Grim Reaper and other scary creatures from movies and stories past sprawled across, and there was a message for their Madrid neighbors to the south, “Noche de Derby. Vuestra Peor Pesadilla.”
In English, this means, “Derby night. Your worst nightmare.” This statement aptly describes Atlético de Madrid’s feeling whenever they have played Real Madrid in El Derbi Madrileño, the Madrid derby. Including the two years that Atlético was in the Segunda División, Real Madrid has not lost to Los Colchoneros in ten years. For further confirmations of Real’s dominance, Real Madrid only lost twice in the derby in thirty-one meetings since the 1992-93 season.
Even when Atlético Madrid won their last title in the 1995-96 campaign, when they finished seventeen points ahead of sixth-place Real Madrid (that season was the first of two seasons to include twenty-two teams in La Liga and forty-two matches in a season), Real Madrid won both meetings.
To say that Atlético Madrid and their supporters developed an inferiority complex would be quite an obvious statement.
Heading into the 169th edition of El Derbi Madrileño, each team composed a different agenda for this match. For Real Madrid, keeping up with Barcelona has become a drama in itself, and for the second straight round, Los Merengues had to follow up a Barça win in order to maintain a tie at the top of the table (On a side note, Barcelona will again play before Real Madrid next weekend. Barcelona’s home match against Athletic Bilbao will commence on Saturday evening, while Real Madrid hosts Racing de Santander on Sunday night. If AS and Marca have not already run some articles on this latest LFP “conspiracy” favoring their Catalan rivals, those writings will come sooner than later.).
For Atlético Madrid, the mediocre play of the teams immediately ahead of them in the standings meant that fourth place and a Champions League spot might actually be viable. When they defeated Racing de Santander in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey, Atleti knew that they sewed up a Europa League place. With Sevilla making the final of the Copa del Rey and most likely securing a top-six finish in the league, Atlético’s place in Europe was all but set in stone, whether it was as the finalist in the Copa del Rey or the winner of the competition.
Atlético was mired in twelfth place at that time, and it would take a quixotic journey to rise to a UEFA Champions League spot. Sevilla, Mallorca, and the rest of the contenders (pretenders at this moment) trod water as Atlético Madrid strung a stretch of positive results together. More than pure pride on the table, Atlético held real possibilities of climbing to fourth place.
When José Antonio Reyes scored for Atlético Madrid in the 10th minute, Real Madrid looked the more nervous and jittery team. Real could not forge a consistent attack, and Atlético was efficient with their possession, eventually leading to Reyes’ goal, where Tiago, Sergio Agüero, and Reyes combined across the top of the box to give Reyes open space to slot the ball past Iker Casillas.
Up to the half-hour mark, Real still dominated possession but could not break down the Atlético defense. Strange to say about Atlético, but with Juan Valera at right back and Tomáš Ujfaluši back into his natural central defensive position, cohesion actually existed in the back line.
Frustration began to envelop the Real players, and Cristiano Ronaldo, as he often does, felt as though he needed to all the work himself. He went on individual runs and acted visibly disgusted almost every time his teammates did not provide the perfect ball for him.
Real Madrid kept chipping into Atlético’s resolute nature, but when Tiago miraculously blocked Gonzalo Higuaín’s from two yards out, and Ronaldo missed an open header from a pinpoint Xabi Alonso cross at the stroke of halftime, the Madridistas must have wondered if they were the ones suffering the nightmare.
Two events shaped what would transpire in the second half. Juan Valera had to come out of the game in the 42nd minute due to injury, and his replacement, Luis Perea, received a staggering cheer from the Real faithful. Perea can be a great defender at times, but he always has those “What the hell is he doing?” moments, and the Madridistas prophesied and envisaged one of those mistakes from Perea.
The other event involved the substitution of José Jurado in place of José Antonio Reyes to start the second half due to injury. Reyes ran Marcelo ragged throughout the first half, and while Marcelo did have a karate-kick volley that forced Atleti goalkeeper David de Gea into a diving save, Reyes kept Marcelo from bombing forward at every opportunity. Speedy wingers like Reyes, Jesús Navas, and Andrés Guardado have troubled Marcelo throughout his career, but Jurado, while an effective player and a good crosser of the ball, would not scare Marcelo into sitting in his own half.
The second half became a Real Madrid clinic in offensive football, culminating in a three-goal outburst in a span of thirteen minutes that silenced any doubts about a first derby win for Atlético Madrid since the beginning of this century. A set piece, a brilliant cross-field ball, and a turnover by the Atlético defense in front of their own penalty box composed Real’s three goals respectively. While Xabi Alonso, the author of that ineffable ball to Álvaro Arbeloa which led to the second goal, gifted Atlético their second goal, via a Diego Forlán penalty, with an inane handball from a Simão Sabrosa corner kick, Atlético de Madrid hardly threatened Iker Casillas’ goal throughout the second half.
The 3-2 final scoreline discredits how dominant Real Madrid was against their city rivals.
Real Madrid was so unworried about the final result that Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos both intentionally forced referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco to issue yellow cards to them late in the match, earning one-game suspensions because those were their tenth yellow cards of the season. They will miss next week’s match against Racing Santander, so that they would not be in danger of missing El Clásico against Barcelona on April 10.
On pace to equal the record for most goals in a season with 107 by the 1989-90 Real Madrid team that included Pichichi winner Hugo Sánchez, Bernd Schuster, and four of the five members of La Quinta del Buitre, this year’s squad continues to focus through the tunnel vision set by their manager Manuel Pellegrini. Another similarity between the 2009-10 Real Madrid team and the 1989-90 team is that they were both knocked out in the last 16 of the European Cup/Champions League despite high expectations. John Toshack, manager of that record-breaking squad, and Pellegrini likely both spun those European losses as removing the distractions from domestic affairs.
Toshack and Real Madrid would win La Liga in 1989-90, and while Pellegrini’s path to the title is much more competitive than the nine point stroll (fifteen points if wins counted for three points as they are today instead of two points as they were back then), Pellegrini and his team would want nothing more than to replicate that team’s accomplishments.
As for the derby, those Madridistas are very quick. As soon as Undiano Mallenco blew the final whistle, the fans unfurled a second message for Los Colchoneros:
“10 años sin ganar un derby… 28/3/10: RMCF 3 – ATM 2… La pesadilla continua.”
“Ten years without a derby win… 3/28/10: Real Madrid CF 3 – Atlético Madrid 2… The nightmare continues.”
Fueras de Juego
– RCD Mallorca needs to tell their fans to stay away. For once this season, Mallorca supporters populated the ONO Estadi because Barcelona flew into town. While Mallorca forced Pep Guardiola to use Xavi and Lionel Messi when Pep wanted to rest them ahead of their Champions League quarterfinal at Arsenal on Wednesday, it was not enough, as a suddenly hot Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in his third consecutive match to win a hard-fought 0-1 game against Los Barralets.
Jeffren Suárez got the start on the right of Ibrahimovic in place of Messi, and Jonathan dos Santos replaced Suárez late in the match. For some reason, Bojan Krkic has fallen down Guardiola’s ladder to where dos Santos made his second ever appearance in La Liga for the blaugrana instead of Bojan making an instant impact off the bench. Bojan has scored in his last two appearances in all competitions, and his lack of playing time will only help fuel the transfer rumors through the end of the season and into the summer transfer window.
– Xerez must have made a deal with El Diablo (the devil) because they won again on Sunday against a torpid Real Valladolid club that played as though they have little hope of staying in La Liga, even though they are only five points behind Real Zaragoza from safety. Unlike their brash and polemic manager Onésimo Sánchez, Valladolid has played with a timid nature. Valladolid striker Manucho, who promised forty goals before the season started, missed a couple of platinum opportunities to give his team a chance to come back against Xerez (Who would have said that at any time this season?), but he still has nine matches to score a mere thirty-eight goals and fulfill his vow.
– Xerez still lags seven points from safety, however, after Real Zaragoza put the hammer down on an unsuspecting Valencia 3-0 in the late Saturday kickoff. When Zaragoza defender Jirí Jarošík nonchalantly back-flicked Gabi’s corner past a shocked César Sanchez to score the third and decisive goal, it capped off a poor Valencia performance that might not matter at the end of the campaign, as no team behind them is threatening them for third place. Valencia finished with less than eleven men yet again, and this lack of discipline could come back to haunt them when they face Atlético Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Europa League. As for Zaragoza, Xerez might be their only real threat to send them back down to the second division because Valladolid and Tenerife cannot buy a win as the season winds down.
– Villarreal looked like the imperious Yellow Submarine that continually finished in the top five in La Liga and ventured into the later stages of the Champions League. Sure, the Sevilla team they faced on Sunday acted like a limp fish beaching in the sun, but with the Nilmar, Giuseppe Rossi, Joseba Llorente trio finally starting to work well together, along with the return of Santi Cazorla from chronic injuries, a two-point deficit in the race for a Europa League spot is definitely within reach, and the seven-point gap between themselves and fourth place is not impossible.
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