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Barça and Real Madrid allow Atlético to pull away

We expected Zidane to revolutionise Real Madrid during the summer, with the arrival of Paul Pogba and the departure of Gareth Bale and several others. But here we are at the start of September and the team’s practically the same one that he took over two thirds of the way through last season – supposedly to identify what was going wrong and find a solution. Essentially the same group of players as last season plus two additions, Mendy and Jovic, started last night’s game against Villarreal. We saw very little of Jovic during the game but he did treat us to a neat backheel assist in the build-up for Madrid’s first goal. As for Mendy, he started brightly then faded. The rhythm of Madrid’s game varied throughout the 90 minutes, they looked insecure at the back and the only one providing goals was Bale, who has been given a reprieve but paradoxically, got sent off.

Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring against Villarreal.

Brief period of dominance

The big change was the switch to a 4-4-2, without Modric, who doesn’t fit into that system. But apart from a brief period in the second half when Casemiro played in a more advanced position and started setting the pace, it didn’t work. Only for a short while did Madrid take the game to Villarreal and look as though they might get a result – especially given how shaky Andrés was looking – the keeper was almost inviting Madrid to shoot at him or send crosses into the box. But just as they were getting into their stride, and with Modric and Vinicius on as second half subs, Zidane reverted to a 4-3-3 before Madrid were dealt another blow – the hosts restored the lead. After that, it was just a question of trying to get back on level terms.

Joao Félix and Diego Costa.

Atlético looking strong and united

The 2-2 draw Madrid took from Vila-real mirrored the result Barça gained in Pamplona; the Blaugranas are still reeling from the whole Neymar business and on top of that, they were without Messi. Barça do have something to cheer with the new season underway - the almost miraculous emergence of Ansu Fati, who has shown he could be football’s next phenomenon. But for real joy, that was in abundance over at the Metropolitano where Atleti bounced back after going 0-2 down to Éibar. Those kinds of epic comebacks are a real rarity in El Cholo’s Atlético, who are so accustomed to wining 1-0. It confirms one thing – that Atleti have unwavering spirit and unity - the very things a team needs to string together a run of victories - while Madrid and Barça keep dropping points, they will allow Atleti to pull further away at the top of the table.