Real Madrid and Atlético slipped 10 points behind Barcelona in the LaLiga title-race following a goal-less draw in the first derby at the Wanda Metropolitano. Earlier in the day, Barcelona took three points from Leganés after a hard-fought victory in the afternoon kick-off.
Zinedine Zidane retained faith in his trusty Lieutenants. Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, and Toni Kroos have received criticism for perceived staleness. The pre-match clamour was in favour of a start for Dani Ceballos. The French coach opted for a cautious approach.
The echoing chant of ‘Atleeeeti, Atleeeeti’ rumbled around the Wanda Metropolitano as Ángel Correa squandered a gilt-edged chance after three minutes. The Argentine playmaker is used to dancing around the opposition to forge his own chances. This time, a rogue touch from Raphael Varane presented him with the ball in the box. He beat the onrushing Kiko Casilla, only to see the ball skid wide of the post.
Diego Simeone. Black jacket, black shirt, black tie, wild gesticulation. His surroundings are different now. The Calderón lies empty, eerie on the banks of the Manzanares River. But some things remain constant. He benefits from a symbiotic relationship with the Atlético faithful. They feed off his energy, and he feeds off theirs.
Madrid pushed forward. Like Correa, Toni Kroos fired wide when one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Under pressure from Juanfran and Diego Godín, his miss was a little more understandable.
Matches between these bitter rivals are best served with a dash of controversy. There was a generous helping towards the end of the first half. Sergio Ramos stooped to waist-height in an attempt to convert a header. Lucas Hernández stretched to clear the ball and made full, clattering contact with Ramos’ nose.
Before the match, Lucas and his brother Theo, who was on the Real Madrid bench, were told not to kick each other by their mother. Lucas heeded that advice, but did not apply it to his brother's team-mates.
The blood flowed, the referee remained unmoved. The Real Madrid captain could not continue beyond the half-time break with what transpired to be a fractured nose.
Real Madrid continued to apply pressure in the second half. The visitors dominated possession and territory. Diego Simeone eased the pressure with attacking substitutions, in particular Yannick Carrasco’s introduction in the place of the industrious Thomas Partey. It was another of El Cholo’s reinforcements from the bench, Kevin Gameiro, who came closest to breaking the deadlock. The French striker beat Casilla, only to see his shot headed clear by Varane on the line.
The scene appeared set for Cristiano Ronaldo to score the winning goal with minutes remaining. He allowed the ball to roll across his body on the right of the box. By the time he had adjusted to shoot, Lucas arrived to hurl himself in front of the ball. The left-back was indomitable. Powerful in attack and stoic in defence.
The first goal-less derby since 2005 was a more positive result for Atleti. In a season painfully disrupted by a transfer ban and a move ten miles across the city to a new home, a title push appeared overly optimistic. Diego Simeone’s retain their unbeaten record this season and continue on course for Champions League qualification.
But for Madrid, a draw is a bitter blow. Zinedine Zidane assured before the match that his side were not in ‘last-chance saloon’. He had to say that, of course. But now, with a ten point gap between Madrid and Ernesto Valverde’s gritty-win machine showing no signs of slowing, Madrid are finishing up their last drink and heading out of the saloon door. It will take a remarkable turnaround for Los Blancos to retain their LaLiga title.