Football Features

“Their talisman is back” – Winners & Losers as Real Madrid level it late on against Atlético Madrid and open up La Liga title race

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:51, 7 March 2021 | Updated: 2:18, 29 November 2022

In a pulse-pounding afternoon of football, Real Madrid drew 1-1 with Atlético Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Atleti took an early lead but Los Blancos bagged a late equaliser. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Luis Suárez

Of course it was Luis Suárez.

The Uruguayan came into this game having scored 11 goals in 17 games against Real Madrid in El Clásico. Well now he’s got 12 in 18.

In a game where defences dominated, where goalkeepers were glorious, of course the most in-form striker settled the game. The player powered by a lust for revenge against Barcelona, to prove to them (and everyone) that he is nowhere near finished. That he can still perform.

And this afternoon’s game both confirmed why Barcelona were right to sell him but also why they were foolish to sell him to Atlético Madrid. In open play the Uruguayan was largely immobile, he couldn’t really run or press, and he notably tired as the match wore on and it was his loose pass through to Saúl at the end, a simple pass in reality, that led to the loss of an easy 2-v-1 chance to score a second. Madrid’s equaliser came immediately after that, so maybe you could even call Suárez a loser.

But he’s not a loser, because he scored a sensational opening goal in the game. Sent in behind the back-line by Marcos Llorente he was approaching the goal at an angle with Thibaut Courtois rapidly closing him down. So Suárez reached back into his repertoire and pulled out a titanic trivela finish. Exactly the same kind of goal he scored against Madrid for Barcelona in late 2015. That was his second goal against Real Madrid, this was his 12th. It seems like he just always does the business against Los Blancos.

Loser: Angel Correa

Every Real Madrid match that isn’t a walkover for Los Blancos has one of these moments. A moment where the team who is either beating Madrid or drawing with Madrid has a chance to score a goal to kill Los Blancos off. It’s an easy chance that they would normally take, but they don’t. It’s a massive miss and they look devastated.

They look devastated because they know what’s coming.

True enough, this afternoon’s Madrid derby had one of those moments and it belonged to Angel Correa. There were other Atleti chances, to be sure, but they drew great saves from Thibaut Courtois. As the ball fell to Correa six yards out, Courtois was rooted to his spot and all the Argentine had to do was prod the ball home. But he whiffed at the chance, and the moment he did you just knew that Real Madrid would come away from the Wanda Metropolitano with at least a point. And that’s what they did.

Winner: Karim Benzema

Benzema spent most of the game looking completely out of sorts. Rushed back from injury to play, he came alive in the box, but very definitely not anywhere near his usual level of fitness and sharpness. Still, Zidane persisted with him because who else could he turn to?

And that loyalty was rewarded at the death when Benzema picked the ball up on the edge of the box, played a delicious pass through to the rushing Casemiro (who had an excellent game and is worthy of praise as well) and the Brazilian fed it back into his path for the Frenchman to smash him a superb equaliser. His 13th goal of the La Liga season and a massive boost for Real Madrid. Their talisman is back, can their season get back on track?

Winner: Casemiro

Luka Modric and Toni Kroos really looked their age against Atlético Madrid. The much decorated midfielders looked incapable of matching the intensity and athleticism of their Atleti counterparts. The same could not be said of Casemiro, however.

For so long the Brazilian was an energy guy for Real Madrid, he would compensate for Toni Kroos’ lack of athleticism and effort. And that worked, especially in one-off big games. He also had a knack for getting forward at the right time (witness the 2017 Champions League final).

But now Casemiro has evolved into a true world-class midfielder. He dominates defensively, he tracks space better than he ever has, and he’s developed a real steely leadership that has served Real Madrid so well. When they need a clutch goal you can be sure if Sergio Ramos or Karim Benzema don’t get it, Casemiro will.

And today he picked up a massive assist, surging into the box at exactly the right moment, waiting to draw Jan Oblak out before feeding it back perfectly into the path of Karim Benzema and hey presto Real Madrid are level. He is simply on another level right now.

Winner: Barcelona

Yesterday Barcelona beat Osasuna in Pamplona 0-2. They got a stunning strike from their in-form left-back and even managed to get a debut goal for yet another teenage midfield sensation in Ilaix Moriba. The win has them in fantastic form and looking happy and confident despite their defensive injuries. They closed the gap atop the league table to two points and awaited today’s result.

A win for Madrid would have seen them draw level on points with the Blaugrana. A win for Atleti would have seen them pull clear of the Blaugrana (with a game in-hand) but a draw leaves this wide-open and curiously for a team who has had such a poor season; everything is still in Barcelona’s own hands.

They hold a two-point lead on Real Madrid with another Clásico to come, and they are three points behind Atlético who do have a game in-hand but they also have to play Barcelona once more this season. So if Barcelona win all their remaining games this season, including against Atleti, then they could well end the season top.

Obviously they’re not likely to win-out, but then given how Atleti dropped points today they’re not likely to win-out either. The key point is that one month ago this looked like it was going to be an Atlético Madrid procession, but now we have a genuine title race on our hands and Barcelona somehow have a real chance to reclaim La Liga.

Loser: Diego Simeone

This was a huge opportunity missed. Win today and Atléti were capable of stretching their lead atop the table to five points over Barcelona with a game in-hand. They’d also be eight points ahead of their rivals Madrid having dealt a decisive blow to Los Blancos.

But in true Simeone fashion, he went too defensive too early when it was clear Madrid couldn’t handle Atleti running at them in the first-half. Then he didn’t introduce his subs quickly enough and moreover left Suárez too isolated in those final minutes. It was all fairly typical for the Argentine coach who has long struggled with game management in the biggest clashes, just as he did today. And his errors have left the title race wide open.