Zidane off the hook; Simeone’s tactical mishap

Zidane put the seal on a happy week for him and his players with a morale-lifting win over Atlético in the derby. The result allows Real Madrid to claw back some of the distance which separates them from the top of the table. Atlético meanwhile will have to take comfort from the fact that they are three points ahead of Madrid with a game in hand. But you can’t help but feel that post-match, the outlook has changed for both teams. Just a few days ago, Madrid were under threat of being knocked out of the Champions and falling too far behind in LaLiga to get back in contention. At the same time, Atlético were unbeaten in LaLiga, brimming with confidence and just one win away from eliminating their city rivals and eternal foes from the title race. Madrid left the Del Di Stéfano feeling happy and safe, while Atlético made their way home rattled and disappointed.

Players who always deliver

Zidane has managed to get a reduced, select group of players to reconnect. This week it was his trusty warriors who tugged the team forward – among them were two highly-valued fringe players - Nacho and Lucas Vázquez. Players including Militão, Marcelo and Isco were not given a role to play in this decisive week for the team. Maybe there will be other moments when they will be called on- I’m sure that is what Zidane has in mind; but when the chips are down, the coach knows who can count on. Last night, Madrid played like they did the other day against Borussia Möchengladbach – with authority and credibility. They produced few chances on goal but enough to score – the second of which was an absolute beauty of a strike from Carvajal, who is only just back from injury.

Simeone’s tactics backfire

As for El Cholo, he got himself in a tangle with his tactics. His system of playing with three centre-backs, which had been working so well for him, came unstuck against a Madrid side who were lively on both flanks and with Benzema (who keeps getting better with each month that goes by) playing deeper, which left that three-man defence ineffective . It also gave Madrid more men in the areas where the game was being played. He took half an hour to sort it out, which he did by simply repositioning the same players. He still wasn’t convinced and made three changes at half-time. When that failed to change anything he took off João Félix and after that, Luis Suárez. It was a bad night for a great coach who yesterday saw his reputation for being a very prudent tactician take a knock.