Real Madrid – Atlético Madrid: Madrilenian Madness In Riyadh (5-3, After Extra Time)
It is not in the DNA of Real Madrid to quit. A manic match in Saudi Arabia was more proof of this indomitable quality. The bragging rights returned to the white half of the Spanish capital— at least for the next seven days— as the new year reinforced the same standard for success.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
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The institution of Real Madrid revel in the search for silverware, and no obstacle can diminish that desire. By the start of the new year, the standard spine has shattered. Karim Benzema left in June; Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba, and Eder Militão are all long term layoffs. It has not mattered. The squad still share the same record with Girona at the top of LaLiga, seven points clear of the Catalan champions, while sailing into the Round of 16 of the Champions League with a sweep of six wins.
Across 26 fixtures and three competitions, only one outfit has beaten them. That distinction belongs to their cross city rivals. A 3-1 victory at the end of September for Atlético Madrid contributes to the best home record in the league for any club. On the coattails of Barcelona, three points adrift of third spot (their worst finish in the standings in the last decade), it should be a season that will sustain the standard. Whether or not it will be memorable depends on the difference makers in these moments.
Diego Simeone stewed on a last gasp 4-3 loss to Girona over the previous seven days. He switched two starting members of his side from that league fixture. Axel Witsel dropped to the bench, making way for Stefan Savić in the defense. Rodrigo Riquelme had also lost his position, so Marcos Llorente moved back to operate as the right wing-back. Saúl Ñíguez entered the fray as the third midfielder with Koke and Rodrigo de Paul; Antoine Griezmann and Álvaro Morata paired up in the offense.
Carlo Ancelotti could not call on the services of Lucas Vázquez. Out of the squad, he was the latest name to add to the injury list from the defensive roster due to a muscle problem. Ferland Mendy came in for Fran García on the left of the back four. The manager asked Nacho to serve as the captain next to Antonio Rüdiger, and Aurélien Tchouaméni pushed into the double pivot with Luka Modrić. Jude Bellingham and Federico Valverde completed the midfield quartet that backed up the two Brazilians.
Atlético ask the right questions
The LaLiga clash had compelled Ancelotti to adapt the organization of his outfit off the ball. They stuck to their standard 4-4-2 shape in which Vinícius and Rodrygo were at the front while Bellingham and Valverde, more mobile profiles, defended the flanks. However, a high press is still not their forte.
6th minute: pressing sequence from Real Madrid. Bellingham had pushed diagonally forward to close down de Paul since he was too far for Modrić to follow. The midfielder passes to Koke then advances into the block. Vinícius had oriented himself outside towards Savić, so Koke became available, and Bellingham chooses to close down the ball holder, allowing Atlético access to Griezmann in the hole.
Their rivals were willing to play out from the back with success. Above all, Griezmann starred. Time and again, he brought the ball under his spell to connect in the offense, contributing to the first goal. He helped thread play towards Samuel Lino to win a corner before assisting Mario Hermoso’s header.
Real rally the response
The early blow did not dent the spirit of Real Madrid. They started to control more of the ball from the first ten minutes onwards. At the outset of this phase, a primary development was consolidation of more ground. Valverde tipped out to the right with Carvajal to circulate from the flank while Rodrygo dodged wide to offer depth in the final third with driving evasive runs. Modrić sat with Tchouaméni and broke free from the clutches of de Paul on a few occasions to support on the left of midfield.
Though the synergy between Bellingham and Vinícius did not flash alive, an equalizer arrived. Bellingham blasted a shot from range, earning a corner. Rüdiger responded. Modrić sent in the set-piece from the right, and the central defender buried into the back of the net, canceling Hermoso’s header and scoring a second goal in a week. Now, Ancelotti’s men started to go up in the gears.
27th minute: offensive sequence from Real Madrid. Real strongly overload their left with both wide midfielders, both forwards and Mendy. Valverde’s involvement and Rodrygo’s wide movement pose possible assignment problems to the defenders. Valverde passes to Vinícius, who spins away from Savić and as Mendy supports on the outside, Rodrygo can punch a central lane to breach the box.
Bellingham, Vinícius, and Rodrygo could all drift to the inside left channel where passes, dribbles, and rotations in close quarters could create confusion in moments for the defense. More pronounced involvement from Valverde on the same side of the field added an extra body to the equation, and the shot count started to trickle up. At the half hour mark, the lead had flipped over into their favor. The fullbacks found each other in the final third to finish a stellar sequence. Carvajal curled a cross flat into the danger zone, and Mendy flicked with the outside of his boot through bodies to beat Oblak.
Griezmann grabbed a brace against Getafe at the end of the year to equal the club’s all time scoring record. He saved a spectacular strike for the point at which he would hold that record outright. The forward came short, then bounced the ball off de Paul, breaking the cover of Tchouaméni to dribble at the heart of the opposition block. Modrić moved to manage his progress, but he chopped away from his marker before slotting a weak footed shot past Kepa. It was all to play for at the midway mark.
The show must go on
Entering the final thirty minutes of regular time, both managers turned to their bench. Toni Kroos took the place of Modrić. In the other camp, Simeone shuffled Llorente into the middle of the park while Nahuel Molina and Rodrigo Riquelme were the wing-backs. The action had settled in phases, but questionable keeping offered more fun for the neutral. Riquelme rolled inside, seeking a striker with his right boot. Kepa advanced, clattered Morata, and squarely smacked Rüdiger with the ball.
The defender was powerless to react. Atlético’s advantage returned— and only ten minutes remained to secure the victory. The rearguard could not resist. Molina left Rodrygo free in depth on his outside in transition, and the ball funneled to Vinícius. He closed in on goal, firing into the palms of Oblak. Scooping the ball away from the line, he poured fuel on the fire. Bellingham tidied the rebound: Giménez and Savić sprawled to block; Hermoso steered a second strike off the line. Carvajal arrived on the scene and picked out the top corner of the net: six goals split equally signaled extra time.
The pendulum swings
This second equalizer seemed to knock the stuffing out of Atlético. Simeone sent on more men, but Real were more lively and pinned their rivals, who would switch to a 5-4-1 block from their 5-3-2 system, deep into their half of the pitch. The deficit had also pushed Ancelotti to act offensively. He entrusted Brahim Díaz to the right of the midfield and Eduardo Camavinga to the left of the back four.
Joselu and Arda Güler, donning the kit for the second time, added to the fresh legs in the final third after the interval. Persistence paid. In the 116th minute, Carvajal infiltrated from the right, raising his head to spot Joselu. The striker slipped to the right of Giménez, shifting gears to drive home the ball. Though he missed the connection, Savić conspired to hook it onto a looping path over Oblak on route for an own goal. The goalkeeper flapped, struggling to scramble in reverse gear, and fell in the net.
Into injury time, Atlético’s eleven all piled forward. A clearance from a throw-in pitted Brahim in a footrace for the ball with the goalkeeper, who was inferior. The substitute saw the empty goal and added a fifth goal for his outfit. Real’s retaliation was complete, and a place in the final was theirs.
🗻 When was a comeback EVER a problem? pic.twitter.com/4BtHWwrlwD— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) January 10, 2024
Real Madrid rose above the adversity again. The wear and tear from extra time on the squad pushed players to their limit, but the goals— three of which belonged to defenders— reflected how everyone committed to the cause. Either Barcelona or Osasuna will be their opponents in the final on Sunday. And no matter which club they face, the appetite to avenge defeat in the 2023 final should not dull.
This display demonstrated dominant developments for Atlético Madrid during the last few weeks. Especially with Griezmann at the heart of the offense, goals are not in short supply. But the core of the craft of Simeone, the art of defending, has looked loose lately. While frailties in the rearguard were costly, a Copa del Rey contest is on the horizon as the second of three editions of this derby.
Match plots will be added as soon as possible.