Atlético Madrid won their 10th Copa Del Rey title, as they defeated cross-town rivals Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Jose Mourinho made several changes to the side that drew Espanyol last week. Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 saw Karim Benzema lead the line, while Mesut Özil, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric played behind the French striker. Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira formed a midfield two, and Raul Albiol replaced the injured Raphael Varane at centre back.
Diego Simeone made three changes to the side that was defeated last week by Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón. Diego Costa, Arda Turan and Koke formed an attacking three behind Colombian striker Radamel Falcao. Mario Suarez replaced Tiago to form a midfield two with Gabi, while Felipe Luis started at left back.
Real Madrid end their third season under Mourinho trophyless, as Simeone’s men were effective in wide areas.
Over the course of the season Real Madrid has struggled to break down teams that allow them to hold possession. Its been one of the many issues Mourinho has been unable to solve during his tenure at the Bernabeu, and it has led to multiple points dropped away from home. Simeone’s men allowed Madrid to have the ball, as they often dropped off into a 4-5-1. Although Atlético sat off, they closed down spaces well, and often kept a compact shape. With Madrid playing without any natural width, Los Colchoneros sat narrow and soaked up pressure.
Going forward Atlético’s aim was to win the ball in midfield, and counter with pace. Diego Costa often surged forward when Simeone’s men won the ball, as Fábio Coentrão was eager to get into advanced positions. This approach led to Los Colchoneros equalizing goal, as Falcao displayed his quick feet and unbelievable strength to break free, and play in Costa – The Brazilian’s first touch was superb and he fired his shot past Diego López.
Atlético’s shape stifled Madrid when they had possession – when Simeone’s men won the ball, they looked to expose the space available, mainly through Costa.
Madrid started the match without a natural winger – Özil played on the right, while Ronaldo started on the left. Both players drifted centrally and were unable to carve open an already narrow Atlético defence.
Yet again we witnessed a reoccurring situation with Özil, as the German playmaker failed to have a significant impact on the match when another playmaker is sitting in the hole. Although Özil starts on the wing, he laterally glides across the pitch looking to pick up the ball in between the lines. With another playmaker on the field, Özil’s space is restricted, and once again in a monumental match, he failed to impress.
Without natural wide players, Madrid depended on their fullbacks to provide width. Coentrão and Michael Essien were cautious when getting forward – Atlético looked threatening on the break due to Costa’s constant forward/diagonal runs, and Felipe Luis was eager to attack the space behind Essien. Initially Ramos covered the space that Costa was looking to attack, but after the goal, Coentrão rarely got into advanced positions. Essien didn’t offer much going forward, and with Özil drifting centrally, Luis was able to run past Turan and get into Madrid’s final third. Luckily for Essien, Khedira and Alonso shifted over to the right to prevent overloads and clear breaks.
There was no surprise that Madrid took the lead from a fantastic Ronaldo header off a set piece, as Mourinho’s men were unable to create openings through the middle.
The press has scrutinized Luka Modric’s time at Madrid, as the Croatian midfielder has failed to reach the heights, which saw him become one of the top midfielders in world football at Tottenham. Modric is an element that Mourinho was deprived of in Madrid’s Champions League exit against Bayern Munich last season. He’s a nifty midfielder, that is good at finding space across the pitch to receive the ball – he can also drop into the midfield to create a midfield three, rather than just looking to receive the ball in between the lines.
Unlike the first leg against Borussia Dortmund, Modric thrived in the hole, behind the striker. The Croatian was picking up the ball in between the lines, skipping past defenders, spreading play from deep positions, and working hard to win the ball back in the midfield. Modric controlled the game during his time on the pitch – in advanced and deep positions he was dangerous, and his will to retain possession was vital.
As the game wore on, Madrid looked favourite to find a winner – many would say they were unlucky not take the lead, as Mourinho’s men hit the post three times. Although those who make that claim are slightly correct, Madrid’s approach can be blamed as well.
Ronaldo’s free kick that hit the post in the 67th minute was unfortunate, and on another day it may have rolled in. But Ozil and Benzema’s chances were perfect examples of Mourinho’s tactical imperfections. Both chances stemmed from Madrid succeeding in wide areas, as Coentrão and Ronaldo provided cut back passes that resulted in shots off the post. In extra-time Ángel di María, who was introduced to provide width, played a sensational ball across the box to Mesut Ozil, but Thibaut Courtois denied the German playmaker. Mourinho could have introduced Di María earlier or ordered Ronaldo to hug the touchline, but the Portuguese manager failed to do so, despite his side creating their best chances from wide areas.
On the other hand, Atlético used width to their advantage, and provided Madrid with a few scares throughout the match. An unmarked Luis got forward twice at the start of the second half, but was unable to get his shot past López. Costa was the other threat on the flank, as his diagonal runs harmed Madrid’s back line. In the first half it led to a goal, and in extra time he made the same run behind the Madrid defence, but López came to the rescue.
Unfortunately for Madrid, Miranda gave Atlético the lead in extra time, as Mourinho’s men failed to clear their lines, and Miranda nodded Koke’s cross from the right flank past López. Not only did Madrid fail to provide natural width, but they were unable to cope with Atlético’s.
Madrid made a triple-substitution at the start of extra time. Di María, Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Arbeloa were introduced. Higuain was brought on to offer something new in attack – Di María provided the natural width that they lacked throughout the match, while Arbeloa was brought on to help nullify Costa’s runs. Higuain and Di María were involved in two great chances for Madrid in extra time, but Courtois made vital stops to preserve Atlético’s lead.
Simeone made player swaps, as Koke, Turan and Costa had worked their socks off. Atlético were holding on to their lead, and were able to do so, as Madrid’s substitutions didn’t have a significant impact on the match.
Atlético Madrid ended their 14-year winless drought against cross-town rivals Real Madrid, as they claimed La Decima.
It was a match that lacked a tactical theme – one side failed to use width, while the other side did and succeeded. Simeone’s men stuck to their approach, despite conceding early on in the match, and it paid off.
“They finally lost their fear and the hearts of each player combined to win the match, and it was amazing. We were fortunate because in football, teams that win have a slice of luck. We believed that we’d win the game,” Simeone said.
“What brought us these achievements has been this – you see Diego Costa running 50 metres back, see Koke, [Radamel] Falcao and Gabi all sacrificing themselves for the team,” he said.
Simeone highlights that his side fought for the team, while on the opposing end we failed to see that – Mourinho losing the backing from majority of the players has played a factor.
Once again in a high profile match, Mourinho failed to make tactical alterations to change the result. Mourinho’s arrival to the Bernabéu three-years ago, saw him put the final pieces to a side that’s lethal on the counter attack, but he failed to provide them with another tactical identity during his tenure – virtually Madrid were simply a counter-attacking side that lacked a plan B.
The Portuguese manager was hired to win La Decima – ironically his last game as Madrid manager saw his cross-town rivals achieve that feat at his expense.