Atletico Madrid remains undefeated as they thoroughly outplayed city rivals Real Madrid.
Carlo Ancelotti made one change to his starting eleven that squeezed past Elche midweek, as Asier Illarramendi started in midfield alongside Sami Khedira. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo led the line in Ancelotti’s 4-4-2, whereas Angel Di Maria and Isco played on the flanks – Luka Modric and Gareth Bale started the match on the bench.
Diego Simeone made three changes to the side that defeated Osasuna midweek, as Gabi, Filipe Luis and David Villa returned to the starting lineup. Simeone’s 4-4-2 saw Villa and Diego Costa form a partnership upfront, with Arda Turan and Koke on the flanks, while Gabi and Tiago played in midfield.
Atletico Madrid limited space in midfield, closed down their opponents quickly and were dangerous on the counter attack, yet their quality in front of goal prevented Simeone’s men from blowing out their rivals.
Atletico’s shape nullify Madrid
Real Madrid dominated possession for long portions of the match, but Atleti’s approach without the ball was significant to their success. They dropped into two banks of four, with a high-line, which saw Costa and Villa drop a few metres ahead of the midfield.
Atleti’s midfield sat narrow, keeping a compact shape, and Madrid struggled to push forward. Ancelotti’s men were forced to play sideways passes into wide areas as Madrid lacked penetration and activity in the final third. With Turan and Koke tucking into central positions, Illarramendi and Khedira struggled to assert their dominance in midfield, and Madrid suffered, as they didn’t possess a link between midfield and attack.
Isco started the match out on the left, and attempted to drift into central areas to find openings, but the young Spaniard was forced to combine with Madrid’s central midfielders in deep positions. Frankly, Di Maria was Madrid’s only legitimate attacking threat. The Argentinian winger hugged the touchline and drifted infield with the ball, providing Benzema with two lovely deliveries, in the span of four minutes.
Atleti’s determination to keep a compact shape was pivotal to their success – Simeone’s men nullified Madrid’s attack, as their large portion of possession didn’t harm Atleti, while the likes of Ronaldo, Isco and Benzema were deprived of quality service.
Diego Costa was by far the most influential player on the pitch, as he was a constant nuisance towards Real Madrid’s backline. Costa continuously made runs into the channels – attacking the space behind the fullbacks – he held up the ball for his midfielders to move into advanced positions, along with drawing a game-high eight fouls throughout the match.
Costa is a hardworking forward, who is slowly receiving the recognition he deserves. The Atleti striker scored the match winner – his eighth La Liga goal this season, equaling Lionel Messi’s league leading total – in the 11th minute, when he slid the ball past Diego Lopez, after being wonderfully played in by Koke.
The 24-year old striker then turned Pepe easily on the left flank and cut the ball back to the top of the box for Turan, but the Turkish midfielder skied his shot into the stands. And in the 60th minute Costa received a glorious opportunity to put the match out of sight. The Brazilian born striker was handed a 1v1 situation with Lopez, but his first touch was heavy, thus forcing him to strike his shot directly at Lopez.
It was a classic, hardworking performance from Costa – he ran the channels exceptionally, caused Pepe and Sergio Ramos several problems, and scored the winning goal, which hands Atletico their second win against Real in the last four months.
Madrid goes 4-2-3-1
Ancelotti made two changes at half time, as he tactically tinkered with his side. Bale and Modric replaced Illarramendi and Di Maria as Madrid shifted into a 4-2-3-1. The introduction of Bale was odd considering Di Maria’s offensive contribution in the first half, whereas Illarramendi struggled to impose his authority on the match.
Yet, neither substitute had a significant impact in the second half. Modric misplaced passes, was bullied in midfield and struggled to push forward, whereas Bale offered the same threat that Ronaldo does, and both men were tracked admirably.
Isco preferred to move into central positions as he found more space between the lines and linked play in deeper areas, but in terms of creating chances, he was still poor.
From an offensive perspective Madrid grew into the match as the second half wore on – their passing tempo was quicker and they were getting into better positions, but Atleti coped with the small amount of chances that Ancelotti’s men created.
Atletico missed opportunities
For all the positive that came from Atleti’s work ethic without the ball, Simeone might be disappointed that his men didn’t kill the game off earlier. Simeone’s men created several legitimate goal scoring opportunities, but their decision-making and quality in the final third kept the match close.
In the 28th minute Tiago nodded his free header over the bar from 10 yards out, and 13 minutes later, Gabi’s header was saved, while Lopez stopped Costa’s rebound – an opportunity that stemmed from an identical corner kick. Costa’s 1v1 chance in the second half, along with Koke’s 80th minute shot off the bar was another set of missed chances that Simeone’s men created.
Despite Madrid’s superiority in possession, Atleti created the better chances throughout the match, which merited three points on the night.
Alvaro Morata entered the match with 17 minutes to play, as Ancelotti reverted back to a 4-4-2 with the departure of Isco. Unlike Benzema, Morata provided energy, mobility and an attacking spark to Madrid’s attack. The Spanish striker was chasing down balls, working hard to close down defenders, and his will to track back to win the ball in midfield delighted the fans.
Morata was on the end of Madrid’s best chances to win the match – his 83rd minute acrobatic volley – from a Khedira cross – was saved by Thibaut Courtois, and minutes after Tiago hit the post, Morata beat Courtois, but the ball hit the side netting.
One of the issues Madrid is facing is the lack of options in the striker position, and with Benzema continuing to produce mediocre performances, Morata may earn himself a start in the upcoming weeks.
Atletico Madrid was worthy of all three points after producing a hard-fought performance against their bitter rivals.
Diego Costa’s magnificent performance, along with their ability to maintain a compact, yet narrow shape, nullified Madrid’s strengths. Costa’s movement into the channels was pivotal, but Atleti’s performance as a unit was miles ahead of a Madrid side that look disjointed going forward.
Ancelotti’s possession-based approach has seen Madrid encounter a few issues this season, one being their ability to break down compact backlines. They struggle to find a link between midfield and attack, thus leaving their attackers isolated as they lack cohesion going forward. Ultimately, it was an issue they faced last season, but their ability to attack on the counter bailed them out – but Simeone’s men were disciplined and quickly got back into their shape. In fairness, this is a fairly new squad being assembled, with a new manager looking to instill his philosophy, but Ancelotti will hope to get his team in unison before Madrid supporters get irritated.
It was an impressive Atletico Madrid performance that showcased a side that withholds unity, while Ancelotti’s Real Madrid is still searching for it.