La Liga Analysis Opinion

Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid – The most influential character in the latest Madrid derby was VAR. The most pleased with its decisions was Santi Solari who oversaw Real Madrid’s fifth consecutive win as Atletico Madrid became the latest to fall at the feet of the rejuvenated Los Blancos. In many ways this was a typical derby; it featured intensity and imprecision in equal measure. But this was a derby with meaning, as so often Madrid derbies have been in recent years. This particular match has been played in Lisbon, Milan and it was the second time that it was being played here at the Wanda where the sun was shining and the football flowing – or so the saying goes.

This was also the stage for Gareth Bale’s 100th goal for Real, it was a neat finish past Jan Oblak; most definitely not his best but quite possibly one of his most significant. Bale struck an overhead-kick in Kyiv to guarantee Real the Champions League last May and he has also scored the best del Rey goal in recent memory when he jostled with the touchline as well as numerous Barcelona players. But this goal mid-afternoon in front of a full house across the City was important, for both him and Real.

Bale had been on the pitch for less than 20 minutes when he scored Real’s third to wrap up the victory, he had come off the substitutes bench to replace Vinicius, who many see as Bale’s replacement at the club. The 15 minutes or so prior to his goal, Bale had been fairly anonymous, not offering much apart from the goal when it came. In many respects, it symbolises Bale’s time at Real where he has often been lost in the shadows but has contributed with the odd crucial and spectacular goal from time to time. It is that inconsistency – brought on by injuries for the large part – which has subjected his position in the team to some debate.

This goal though reminded those who continue to doubt Bale what he can offer. It also gave Real victory over their old foe and ensured that they leapfrog Diego Simeone’s side in the standings. This would have seemed fantasy only a few weeks ago, let alone months. At the close of play on Saturday, Real were within five points of Barcelona – albeit by the end of Sunday they were eight – having gone above Espanyol, Alaves, Sevilla and now Atletico in recent matchdays. It is a testament to the improvement that Solari has overseen since taking charge.

It is evident that the confidence which Real had seemingly lost with the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo and the departure of Zinedine Zidane’s steady hand along with the complacency which had set in after a third consecutive Champions League success have both been reversed.

There is greater energy and increased hunger on the pitch and more pride in wearing the white shirt. There is the sense that this is the cusp of a change that Real have needed despite their recent successes. This rejuvenated team is not the end of a short project but only the start of how Real adapt for the future; a future which Solari increasingly should be a part of.

The Real Madrid head coach opted for more experience in this match, giving starting places to Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Casemiro. Whilst Simeone was able to gift Alvaro Morata his home debut alongside Antoine Griezmann up front. As expected – and is often the case in most derby matches – the opening quarter of an hour was an opportunity for both sides to assert themselves on each other and also the test the leniency of the referee.

Atletico had the best of it in a cagey start but it was the visitors who took the lead from a corner. Sergio Ramos, stood in the middle of the penalty area, rose above four defenders to head the ball towards Casemiro who was unmarked. The Brazilian elevated himself and performed an overhead kick past the outrushing Oblak and into the corner.

This was a derby of pace and directness and is why Vinicius had such joy. He was willing to sprint forward with and without the ball at every opportunity. Time and again he threatened the Atletico defence; one wonderful pass of his was volleyed over the crossbar by Lucas Vazquez as Real looked to double their lead. The direct nature of the match though also brought about a fair share of fouls. But referee Estrada Fernandez performed admirably in such testing surroundings.

The home crowd at the Wanda had a goal to cheer of their own though shortly before the half-hour mark. Griezmann, who had been set through on goal by Angel Correa, slid the ball through the legs of Thibaut Courtois to equalise. VAR was consulted – not for the first or last time of this affair – for a possible offside but Griezmann was clearly on and the officials concluded as so. There was a shout for a possible foul on Vinicius in the build-up but in reality, the Real players were clutching at straws.

If the seesaw nature of this game hadn’t been clear from the off then it was when Real were given the chance to retake the lead just prior to the break. Vinicius again was involved, drawing Jose Gimenez in then pulling away in the penalty area. The Atletico defender slid in and the foul was clear; where it happened, less so. VAR was again called into action to determine whether a penalty should be awarded, it was and Ramos surprised everyone by scoring a penalty that wasn’t a Panenka.

After half time, Atletico threw much more at their opponents. The noise generated inside this impressive new stadium was audible for some distance and only increased as Morata and Griezmann hit shots wide of the post before the former Real striker found the back of the net before being ruled out. VAR again. This time deciding that Morata was offside when he latched onto the long ball before lifting a shot over Courtois. It was at this point that Bale came on and suddenly appeared some 15 minutes later to put the game beyond Atletico.

Atletico grew frustrated, in part brought on by another VAR decision – this time it possibly reached the wrong conclusion as it determined Casemiro’s foul on Morata was nothing more than innocuous. Thomas Partey was sent off in the final 10 minutes, and in fairness, he was only fulfilling the obligation that a derby match in Spain must see at least one red card. When the referee blew the whistle for full time, it was apparent what this victory meant for Real.

“Real Madrid fly” was the headline donning the front cover of Diario AS on Sunday morning whereas Marca went for “Madrid return”. There were plenty of column inches given to the controversial aspects of the match; “VAR, the star of the derby” said Mundo Deportivo. Real were deserving winners most definitely, both managers said as much. “Today was a win for teamwork,” Solari claimed whereas Simeone conceded that “Real were the better team”.

Atletico did show some imprecision, at times they were toyed with and then torn apart; signs once again that Atletico are letting bad habits slip into their game – habits which haven’t existed in Simeon’s side for practically eight years. But this was Real’s win more so than Atletico’s loss and it was a win that only confirms the renaissance that Solari is overseeing at Real.

Los Otros Puntos

If there are two teams moving in opposite directions then it’s Getafe and Celta Vigo. This 3-1 defeat for the Galicians only confirms that they are indeed involved in a tough relegation battle and appear rather ill-equipped for the fight; lacking in confidence and in need of points. Getafe, on the other hand, push further up the table and as supporters left the Coliseum and headed for the numerous tapas bars on Saturday, they good look at the league table and see their side sitting in fifth, one point behind Sevilla.

And with Barcelona drawing against Athletic Bilbao maybe there is league after all. In truth, Barcelona could have lost this game if it wasn’t for the heroics of Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Ernesto Valverde had a lot to thank his goalkeeper for as his former side created a number of good chances. La Blaugrana started sluggishly but improved in the second half;

“We lacked precision in the first half, we have lots of games in our legs, it is to be expected,” Luis Suarez said post-match.

How did Sevilla muster that comeback? Or should that be how did Eibar throw it away? Two goals up away at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan with only five minutes left and Eibar concede twice.

The struggles of Valladolid and Villarreal continue. A draw was far from ideal for either on Friday evening but in truth neither deserved to win.

Maybe there is life left in Huesca after all; that’s now back-to-back victories in La Liga for the first time whilst Girona’s winless streak extended to 13 matches in all competitions as they slip closer to the relegation zone.

Los Resultados

Valladolid 0-0 Villarreal

Getafe 3-1 Celta Vigo

Atletico Madrid 1-3 Real Madrid

Espanyol 2-1 Rayo Vallecano

Girona 0-2 Huesca

Leganes 3-0 Real Betis

Valencia 0-0 Real Sociedad

Sevilla 2-2 Eibar

Athletic 0-0 Barcelona

Alaves – Levante to be played on Monday

La Clasificación

Atletico Madrid Real Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis