In a typical night of football, Real Madrid bossed and beat Atlético Madrid 2-0.
The win moved Los Blancos to within three points of Atleti atop the table, albeit Diego Simeone’s men have a game in-hand. What did we learn?
1. Dani Carvajal sets the tone
Many different players have many different levels of influence over Real Madrid and the way they play. From Kroos and Modric they get a sense of composure, from Ramos and Casemiro their cojones, Benzema scores goals but no one can influence their tempo and aggression and tempo quite like Dani Carvajal.
The pint-sized right-back has an absolutely gigantic presence and influence on the way Madrid play. His driving runs from full-back do so much to up the side’s tempo and keep opponents on the back foot. And then his tough-tackling and consistent ruggedness keeps everyone on their toes and ensures that opponents can never really get settled.
Daniel Carvajal has scored just his fifth goal in 191 league appearances for Real Madrid.
His best and most important one yet. ☄️ pic.twitter.com/WlHcGgszL6
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2020
Today from the very start he was driving Atleti back and pushing his side higher and higher, and it resulted in a Real Madrid performance that was wholly dominant. And then of course he scored the second goal with a stunning strike from the edge of the box (albeit it struck the post and then Oblak on its way in), putting Los Blancos in an unassailable position.
2. Same ol’ Atleti
Atlético Madrid might be top of La Liga and they may have played some wonderful football and worked superbly and came into today’s game having conceded just twice and never fallen behind, but when all is said and done, they are still Atético Madrid.
So, yes, Cholo Simeone’s men are now capable of grinding out wins against weaker sides where in the past they would have fallen to draws, but in the bigger moments? The biggest games? They got absolutely slapped out of their shirts by Bayern Munich, the worst Barcelona in forever was a match for them (the game turned on a nonsensical unforced error from Marc-André Ter Stegen) and now, they faced Real Madrid who have picked up a little bit of form and they folded like cheap clothes.
Today they just did not have it. They couldn’t get close to their rivals. And when Simeone made three subs at half-time to try and fire up his team, one of his subs was booked 15 seconds into the half and then another had given the ball away in dangerous areas twice in the first five minutes, then that first player missed an open goal five minutes later. It was absolutely embarrassing.
And even when the changes had their desired effect and Atleti began to play with a bit of pace and drive, they created just two presentable chances and missed them both quite, well again the word is embarrassing.
Atleti will probably still win La Liga, because their consistency against weaker sides is exactly what you need to win league titles, but their inability to truly stamp their authority on the biggest games show that, ultimately, they are the same ol’ Atleti.
3. Toni the Tiger
What defined Real Madrid’s midweek win over Borussia Monchengladbach was the excellence of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos set the tone for Los Blancos. And while midweek the Croatian was the more regal and dominant figure, today it was the turn of Toni Kroos.
The German was just impeccable against Atleti. He had the most touches in the game (110), the most passes attempted (90), completed (87), the most passes in an opponent’s half (62) the most crosses (4) and the joint-most chances created (2) including a lovely assist for Casemiro’s opening goal. It was a sublime showing from Toni the Tiger whose roar ensured that Real Madrid still run the Spanish capital.
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4. Luis Suárez is a broken-down stallion
There was a time when Luis Suárez was so good that he was not just the best no. 9 in the world but genuinely threatened to gatecrash Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo’s contest to be the second-best player in the world. He was sensational.
That was a long time ago and Suárz has not got anywhere near that level since 2017, yet his performances were so iconic that people have refused to accept the truth: despite his goalscoring, he has been a liability for the last two years.
Suárez simply doesn’t have the athleticism to take part in the kind of expansive football even Atlético Madrid want to play. Today he was absolutely useless against Real Madrid, offering nothing, and yet even Diego Simeone still believes in Suárez as he left him on for 72 minutes, even taking Joao Felix off before the Uruguayan! No one would have ever expected Cholo to copy Ernesto Valverde, and yet…
Luis Suarez's first Madrid Derby for Atletico:
10 passes completed
1/3 duels won
A struggle. pic.twitter.com/HRQO5DDRwg
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2020
The sad fact is no amount of time was going to give the Uruguayan the swagger needed to take on Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. And nothing well. Luis Suárez is a broken down old stallion. A pure thoroughbred still capable of moments of magic, but overall he’s just not got “it” anymore. Not at the elite level, anyway.
5. Real Madrid are back! (maybe)
A week ago Real Madrid looked dead and buried. They had just lost back-to-back games against Alaves and Shakhtar Donetsk, and overall had lost five times in their last 11 matches, winning just four times in that period. They faced a daunting gauntlet of games against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atlético Madrid. There was talk of “season over?” and “Zidane out?”
But then Real Madrid did what Real Madrid do in the big games: they won. An unconvincing 0-1 win against Sevilla was followed by a spectacular domination of Gladbach midweek and then they handed Atlético Madrid their first defeat of the season.
Three games, three wins, five goals scored and 0 conceded. Real Madrid are back! Well, maybe. They sure seem to be but rising to the occasion for big games has never been an issue for Los Blancos under Zinedine Zidane.
Consistency against smaller games has been more of a problem, so let’s see if Los Blancos can keep this momentum going over the next few weeks. If they can, don’t rule out the possibility that they just might retain La Liga.