Real Madrid – Atlético Madrid: Llorente’s Last Laugh Signals A Stalemate (1-1)

El Derbi drained its energy from the first two meetings of its contestants at the start of the year. Without the excitement of extra time, the clubs only served up two goals in a clash where Real might have been better, but their rivals refused to relent— exploiting a glaring flaw till the end.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

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A fortnight has followed since the second struggle between the two major camps across Madrid. The battlefield shifts from cup competition to the league, but the picture has hardly changed in that period.

Real Madrid continue to conduct their business in an orderly manner. Three victories in their last three outings put them back at the top of the LaLiga table ahead of the weekend. The fight for the top spot with Girona may pivot on a confrontation that awaits after this contest, but the hosts are still reeling at only their second loss all campaign to the same rival. A triumph would level their head to head record.

Atlético avenged the defeat in the semi final of the Supercopa da España on their way to the final four of the Copa del Rey. That advancement is one component of a steady season in which the squad look forward to a tie in the Round of 16 of the Champions League against Inter Milan and sit in third place in the standings, on par with Barcelona. Could they now carry on their five fixture winning streak?

Diego Simeone decided to rest a few figures in midweek. Memphis Depay and Ángel Correa had stepped in for the usual duo of Álvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann. Winter window signing Arthur Vermeeren had earned his first start for the club in the middle of the park with Pablo Barrios. Both dropped to the bench, so Koke and Rodrigo de Paul joined Saúl Ñíguez in the engine room. In the rearguard, a final alteration featured the replacement of Reinildo Mandava with Stefan Savić.

Carlo Ancelotti cut four players from his selection in a 2-0 win away at Getafe. Two of those were in the midfield. Aurélien Tchouaméni was missing with a suspension, making way with Luka Modrić for Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga. Antonio Rüdiger was also absent with a thigh injury, so Dani Carvajal filled in at the center of the defense, and Lucas Vázquez stayed as a right back. But the most marked absentee was Vinícius Júnior, who had pulled up in the warmup routine with another injury.

Real ratchet up the rightward axis

Who would operate in the offense in his place? Joselu had scored both goals against Getafe, while his height and aerial presence could partially remedy the absences at the back from defensive set-pieces. But Carlo counted on Brahim Díaz, whose selection showed how Real would approach this contest.

The guests gave up the territory. They defended in a standard 5-3-2 system, only keeping 24% of the back in the first quarter of an hour. Kroos pinned deep to the left or between the central defenders as the fulcrum of the work in possession. Rodrygo and Jude Bellingham could connect on the left of the offense, but the primary productivity came from the area where Madrid do not usually double down.

Switches from Kroos to Vázquez released the right back to foray forward in the final third. Brahim boosted the offense with his will to dribble in tight spaces, and Federico Valverde could filter ahead of his teammates with his runs. The offensive forces worked well together to probe the corners of the opponents’ formation, and a little beyond ten minutes after kickoff, Griezmann dropped to the left of the midfield to create a 5-4-1 structure. However, it would still be the hosts that seized the advantage.

11th minute: offensive sequence from Real Madrid. Valverde shifted to the left of the formation and Saúl followed him deep into the defense. So there is no third man to support the switch defense. Once Vázquez receives, he drives inside Rodrigo Riquelme and Hermoso cannot step out to engage Brahim. He continues to underlap, pulling both defenders inside, and Kroos passes outside again to Brahim.

Riquelme responded to Kroos’ deflected switch, but his header fell at the feet of Brahim. He tried to feed a pass inside that bounced again off the body of an Atlético player in Saúl. Vázquez eventually picked up the pieces, seeking to set up Bellingham in the box. This time, Koke inadvertently handed the ball back to the hosts, pushing it into the path of Brahim. He mopped up the mess once and for all, skipping aside Axel Witsel and slotting a shot over Jan Oblak. Real Madrid rewarded their control.

Simeone shuffles the pack

Simeone’s men have shown they can pose problems on the ball against Real. Their hosts adopted a different approach to the last two outings. Instead of sitting in a 4-4-2 formation, Bellingham pushed into the center to tackle Koke at the base of midfield. Witsel had the space and time to bring the ball forward from the back in structured phases of play, but they created few chances in a lopsided layout.

26th minute: offensive sequence from Atlético Madrid. Griezmann drifted to the right off the shoulder of Morata to separate from the central defenders and then holds position in the right inside channel. Bellingham continues to follow Koke, Kroos fell back to monitor de Paul’s previous advance and Valverde falls back into the box with the advancing Saúl, the third offensive threat at the far post.

Hermoso hugged the outside, looking to step into space if Brahim bound himself closer to Witsel. Valverde shadowed Saúl, but the connections were generally even more sparse on the right, where Llorente launched into linear running duels with Mendy. The structure shifted at the half hour mark.

Hermoso held down the left of the defense, and Riquelme was on the right of the midfield in a 4-4-2 shape. Before the start of the second half, Simeone turned to the bench. He hauled off Riquelme and put on Nahuel Molina on the right of the rearguard. Llorente advanced onto the right of the midfield, while Griezmann also moved more to the left. Here, he connected with Hermoso to force Mendy into giving away a corner. The talisman whipped the set-piece into the area, and Savić headed into the net. However, Saúl’s offside positioning, impeding Andriy Lunin, ushered VAR to chalk off the strike.

Aerial attacks allow Atlético recovery

For the second time, Simeone switched the arrangement in the 61st minute. Barrios came on for de Paul in the pivot, Samuel Lino stepped in for Saúl on the left of the midfield, and Memphis replaced Griezmann as a second central forward. Koke then left the pitch, so Llorente moved more centrally to partner with Barrios, and Correa entered the action on the right of the midfield as the last substitute.

Above all, answers in the air wore down the defensive from Real. The direct dagger into the box backfired a few times. Valverde veered into enemy territory on the break to set away Rodrygo on his right and then Brahim to balletically dance into the area. But those transitions seemed less likely to happen over time. Joselu came on in the 71st minute, but both forward thinking figures also exited.

The visitors vied for the equalizer and received their prize for hard work. Savić slung the ball into the box in the dying embers of injury time. Memphis made the first contact in the air, jumping ahead of Carvajal to pop the ball back into the sky. Nacho pedaled back to read the new trajectory, but Llorente leaped to crash a second header past Lunin. Stinging Santiago Bernabéu with his bullet breakthrough, there would be no remaining time for retaliation. This edition of the derby would finish all square.


Real Madrid might rue the conclusion of these derbies more than their rivals. Not only did they drop points in injury time, but this draw also meant that their only victory from the three fixtures was when arguably the least was on the line in this campaign. But it is a credit that the holes in the center of their defense were mostly not problematic. Ancelotti has answered the call against crisis time and again this season. Now, they must rest and recuperate for a critical chapter in the race for the LaLiga crown.

Atlético added another point to their tally on the road to their aspirations. The guests only sit two behind Barcelona, within reach of their customary position in the top three. Simeone stressed how this duel was strange in its difference from the others: with less openness and a feeling for the errors that might open the door for the opponent. His men again accrued the benefits of a persistent push for goals and now turn to the visit of Athletic Club in the four of the Copa del Rey in midweek.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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