Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid – It was billed as a match-up between Antoine Griezmann and Luka Modric, but to distill a Madrid derby down to two individuals is rather crude. Although Diario AS produced a compelling two-page special in Saturday’s edition highlighting why the emphasis should be on those two players, the derby ended as a stalemate, with few chances to speak of.
Saturday’s match was predicted to be a showcase for Modric and Griezmann to cement their claim to winning this years Balon d’or, for what that’s worth in a team game. One has just led his club to another Champions League success and his country to a remarkable World Cup final, whilst the other had been the focal point as his club won the Europa League and country won the World Cup.
However, after 90 minutes in the Bernabeu, if there were two players who owned this match then it was the goalkeepers. The men that tried to prevent what most of the spectators wanted to see – goals – emerged as the heroes. They left undefeated, like their teams. It was a derby of the goalkeepers. Jan Oblak and Thibaut Courtois afforded their sides a share of the spoils.
Newspapers Diario AS and MARCA both carried such sentiment on Sunday morning: ‘Two great goalkeepers’ was the headline. It was a tactical affair that for much of the evening followed a similar pattern; Real Madrid had the possession whilst Atletico Madrid attacked on the counter. When there were chances, however, they came up against ‘the walls’.
Courtois, playing his first derby in Real Madrid colours since joining in the summer, was roundly booed by the travelling Atletico fans who were positioned so high up in the gods of the Bernabeu that Courtois would have struggled to see them. But he did see the danger that Los Rojiblancos posed to his goal – he made a stunning save to deny Antoine Griezmann and another to thwart Diego Costa. Atleti’s attack is still underwhelming and lacking a cutting-edge.
Atletico’s current placing in the league table is more down to Jan Oblak than their attackers. They have only managed to score eight goals in their seven La Liga matches so far, luckily for them Oblak has only conceded four. And the Slovenian maintained that statistic with a brilliant stop to prevent Marco Asensio. He has a claim to being the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment, and it does beg the question of how Atletico would have faired in recent seasons had they not had ‘the cat’ in between the posts.
To say this match was conservative would not be too wide of the mark. Real tightened up after their shock 3-0 defeat at Sevilla in midweek, with Nacho’s inclusion at left-back in place of the injured Marcelo making the back-line somewhat more solid and the Brazilian’s reckless performances of late. What was perhaps more noteworthy was that this was the second occasion in a week that Julen Lopetegui changed Real’s system during a game to match their opponents’. Call it reactive, or maybe clever, but it ended with the hosts playing out a second successive game without scoring for the first time since 2011.
The chances of that run extending to a third league game is more likely given that Gareth Bale was withdrawn at half-time through injury. He may return sooner than anticipated with tests due, “He has discomfort in his abductor muscle and it made sense to take him off as a precaution,” Lopetegui said. But with Bale off, Real did step up after a first period in which Atletico pushed. Saul Niguez brought a save from Courtois after just two minutes and Griezmann sliced an overhead kick wide three minutes later.
Atletico appeared to want to make a point, and Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2 was difficult for Real to handle. Saul bent a shot just wide, then Koke shouted for a penalty after his cross hit Casemiro’s arm, next Costa got away and forced another fine save from Courtois. The spotlight was already settling on the two keepers, but Oblak did have Atletico hearts in mouths after a moment of misjudgment. With Asensio chasing down, the Slovenian tried to play the ball beyond the Madrid attacker, only for the pass to hit him. Luckily enough the ball bounced back up into the goalkeeper’s arms. A rare mistake from a dependable goalkeeper.
After Lopetegui’s reshuffle, brought on in part by Bale’s substitution and Simeone’s working plan, Real felt the benefit. Immediately, Casemiro shot over, and then Asensio’s effort was stopped at the near post. Dani Ceballos continued to drift in from the left to add more numbers to the pressure building on Atletico’s defence, but the chances were few. The balance, however, had shifted and it was with the visitors.
Real opened up Atletico on the left side; Toni Kroos slipped the ball across for Asensio running into the penalty area. He was clean through with the game’s best opportunity, but Oblak was out fast to deny him with an excellent stop. With the incessant pressure building on wearisome Atleti legs, Simeone sought protection and brought on Thomas Partey to replace the largely ineffective Costa.
Although, shortly after the change, Real were through. Diego Godin gave the ball away – something that has started to drift into the Uruguayan’s game recently – and Asensio had the entire pitch to venture into. He ran and ran but Jose Gimenez was determined to track him and Atletico’s other Uruguayan defender sprinted across to clear. Atletico became more compact, there was now a clear sense of hanging on to what they had.
Not that Real’s chances were plentiful and there was still the odd break from the visitors. The 18-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Jr was sent on for his Real debut, he brought added pace and, although it was no more than a cameo, there was promise. With the final minutes now being played, both goalkeepers – the determinants of the match – had their final touches. In the end, a draw was fairly expected and in many ways deserved. To boil a derby down to two individuals is a menial task, but Courtois and Oblak had done enough to ensure a share of the spoils in this one.
Los Otros Puntos
A midweek trip to Old Trafford now appears that bit more palatable for Valencia. Their win against Real Sociedad on Saturday was their first of the season and with them travelling to Manchester to face a club that appears to be eating itself alive, their confidence will be boosted.
As Sevilla scored, the crowd fell. A metal barrier in front of the travelling Sevillan supporters gave way and led to more than 20 fans spilling over and onto the pitch. There were injuries and some remained in hospital on Sunday. It cast a shadow over an otherwise impressive Sevilla display against Eibar. Spanish stadiums are known to be in need for some TLC, with only recently issues arising at Balaidos and Vallecas. Ipurua, on the other hand, has undergone recent redevelopments since Eibar joined La Liga in 2014. Speaking from first-hand experience, it is a lovely neat ground but it is quite basic. The stand that houses the away fans in the corner has not seen the same improvements as other parts of the stadium, and there will be questions for the club to answer.
It looked for a while that Barcelona were going to suffer their first home defeat in more than two years, considering what had happened during the week, this would be a blow to Ernesto Valverde. Athletic Bilbao took the lead just before half-time when Oscar de Marcos volleyed into the net after Inaki Williams had missed two clear goalscoring chances. The last time Athletic picked up a point at Camp Nou was 2004 when Valverde himself was in charge. With six minutes left to play, Munir El Haddadi – who had come on as a substitute along with Leo Messi and Sergi Busquets – converted a cross with a sliding finish. It was better than a defeat, but few will see it like that.
With Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico all dropping points, top of the table was waiting for Alaves – yes, that Alaves – but so were Levante.
A second successive victory for Valladolid, heaps more pressure on Villarreal who just can’t score.
Rayo Vallecano 2-2 Espanyol
Real Sociedad 0–1 Valencia
Barcelona 1–1 Athletic Bilbao
Eibar 1–3 Sevilla
Real Madrid 0–0 Atletico Madrid
Huesca 1–1 Girona
Villarreal 0–1 Valladolid
Levante 2–1 Alaves
Real Betis 1–0 Leganes
Celta Vigo – Getafe to be played on Monday