Atletico Madrid left Santiago Bernabéu with a well deserved 1-0 win over Real Madrid on Saturday.
Antoine Griezmann managed to score the game’s only goal after the break to give Los Colchoneros all three points. It also marks the third consecutive season in which Atlético have won their league encounter with Real at Bernabéu. The defeat almost ended Real’s any hope of winning La Liga, as they are right now nine points behind Barcelona, who play Sunday.
With three vital absences in the likes of Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Pepe, Real manager Zinedine Zidane had no other choice but to do some shuffling in his starting eleven. Danilo replaced Marcelo at left-back pairing up with center-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane and right-back Dani Carvajal to stand out a back four in front of goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Isco joined Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield, while James was handed out the duty of playing in the attack helping Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Meanwhile, following a lackluster midweek Champions League display at PSV Eindhoven, Atletico boss Diego Simeone chose to make a switch at the top with Fernando Torres coming in for Luciano Vietto. The veteran striker was partnered with Griezmann, with Koke and Saul as helping hand out wide on the flanks. Anchored in the midfield was Augusto and captain Gabi, while in the defensive four in front of goalkeeper Jan Oblak it was the center-back pairing of Diego Godín and José María Giménez, Filipe Luís and Juanfran posted at left and right full-back, respectively.
Like in the past occasions, the derby had an exciting start, with Atletico snapping at Real’s heels from the very fast. The physical gameplay was to Atletico’s liking, as Simeone’s boys formed a rock solid defence frustrating the Real attack. A Varane header from a Kroos free kick in the 17th minute found Oblak on his toes, while Ronaldo served warning notice with a fearful free kick which Oblak managed to block with his hands. The resulting ball eventually fell to Benzema, but he fired wide.
Los Blancos enjoyed actually the majority of the chances, but they were not up to the marck with solid finishing touch to find a goal. For the most part Zidane’s boys were hardly in danger at the other end, but during the last five minutes before the break, Atletico found an opportunity to attack. A Griezmann shot from outside in the 41st minute left Navas reaching for the ball with a flying save, while two minutes later Navas once again at the near post denied Koke to take the lead.
The Bernabeu faithful were taken aback at the start of the second half as 18-year-old Borja Mayoral came in for Benzema. There was no such indication that the Frenchman was injured, suggesting the change all the more stunning.
Just two minutes after the break it was Ronaldo who seemed inch closer to find the net after a deflected pass from Modric reached him, but he wasted the chance by firing just wide of Oblak’s far post.
Just when it looked like Real might become the first to take the lead, Atlético struck from nowhere. A Griezmann led counter in the 53rd minute saw the French attacker feed Filipe Luís on the left, who then cut in a pass back to Griezmann and the left-footed stunner from the former Real Sociedad man made all the difference, beating Navas at the near post to hand Atletico a 1-0 lead.
The Atletico goal only increased the anxiety level among the Bernabeu faithful, as majority of the crowd voiced their frustration against Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. Meanwhile Simeone’s boys threatened again in the 66th minute, but were not able to beat Navas. Just two minutes later Carvajal picked out Ronaldo, who was surprisingly left all alone right in front of goal, but the CR7 again missed a golden opportunity as he headed right at Oblak.
Zidane’s desperation was clear as he tried to roll his dice in the 70th minute with Jese coming in for Isco. A moment later Mayoral took a shot at goal but didn’t get enough of it leaving Oblak to parry the ball to safety.
Heading into the final 15 minutes Real Madrid pushed hard for an equalizer, but whenever a small sliver of space opened up, Atletico quickly close it down, thwarting any chances Real created. Of note were Godín and Giménez, who stood out like the great wall of China and were immense in the center of Atlético’s defense, pouncing to see off any type of danger, which left Real to restart their goal search via a throw-in.
A Danilo left-footed shot that skipped just wide in the 88th minute was actually Real’s last hope of the day, as time ran out on the home team and the celebrations started at the Fuente de Neptuno.
Next for Real Mdrid is a trip on Wednesday to Levante, while Atletico will welcome Real Sociedad on Tuesday.