Meeting for the fourth consecutive season in Europe’s top competition, the Spanish capital’s two biggest clubs clashed at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg of this year’s semi-final.
Two of those previous encounters were in the final of the Champions League, with Real Madrid coming out on top, once in extra-time and again on penalties to deny their rivals a first triumph in the competition, whilst racking up their 10th and 11th titles. 2015’s quarter-final had the same result, with two matches providing just a single goal as Los Blancos edged the contest once more.
This tie provided another chance for Diego Simeone’s Atletico to avenge those narrow defeats, with a place in the final against Juventus or Monaco available.
Here are three things The Boot Room learnt from the latest Madrid derby:
Isco took his place in Real Madrid’s starting XI in place of Gareth Bale who has been unavailable since sustaining an injury in last month’s El Classico.
Upon the announcement of the teams, it looked likely that Isco would play in the front three ahead of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric who tend to play deeper. Although the 25-year-old usually plays more centrally, the set-up gave him freedom to come inside more often than Bale may have done.
Throughout the first half, in which Real asserted their dominance and were unlucky to score just once. Isco proved pivotal in controlling the game and upkeeping the furious tempo of Zinedine Zidane’s side. In the first 45 minutes, the midfielder attempted 42 passes with a 100% success rate, playing 18 of those forward and creating one chance.
By the time the Spaniard was substituted on 68 minutes he had completed 59 of 60 passes, having sent the ball in all directions, mostly from the middle and attacking thirds.
His removal from play was likely the result of his earlier booking and was no surprise after being fortunate to evade a second yellow for a foul on Koke just before his departure.
Ronaldo Remains Remarkable
Now more than ever regarded as second best behind Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo continues to provide a case for being number one by scoring in the biggest games.
Ronaldo’s three-goal haul means that he has scored 10 goals in 11 Champions League games this season, has scored successive hat-tricks in the competition (the other against Bayern Munich) and has two trebles against Atletico this campaign.
His overall European record is even better, 103 Champions League goals, (more than Atletico’s 100) more goals in the knockout stages than any player ever, and a remarkable 13 semi-final goals.
In this tie the Portuguese forward had just five shots on goal, one was blocked, another from an outrageous distance and three found the net. He also managed to complete 86% of his passes, created a chance and showed his ariel prowess by towering over Stefan Savic to head home the first goal.
At 32-years-old Ronaldo has changed his game, but is as prolific as ever when it matters most. He has almost single-handedly carried Real Madrid from the quarters to the Final in Cardiff, as they look to win the trophy for the third time in four years.
Despite the second leg to come at the Vicente Calderon Stadium, this semi-final is all but finished. Atletico Madrid’s greatest strength throughout their period of success under Simeone has always been defending.
Some more attacking sides, as seen in Barcelona’s epic last-16 reversal against Paris Saint-Germain, would have a hope of overturning the deficit, but sadly for Los Rojiblancos, and any neutrals dreaming of another classic, they do not look capable of scoring that many goals.
At the weekend, Atleti recorded their best away win under Simeone, a 5-0 demolition of Las Palmas, showing that they can be rampant, but still remain way behind Real’s total of 92 league goals with 65. Even more daunting is the prospect of more goals to come. Zidane’s team typically score in every game they play, meaning that Atletico will realistically need at least five in reply, having failed to grab an away goal.
It was as an unfamiliar performance from a Simeone side, as even games against their main city rivals are usually close – six of the last seven have been drawn or decided by a one-goal margin. They uncharacteristically failed to clear on two occasions before conceding the opener and lacked impetus throughout proceedings.
Both of the away side’s starting strikers, and even Torres when he was introduced, struggled to get into the match, staying too high up the pitch as Kroos Modric and Isco set the tempo in midfield. Worryingly, they even failed to capitalise on space left by Real’s marauding full-backs, exerting too much effort into failed attempts at playing through the middle.
Even if the second leg sees a dramatically improved performance, there is practically zero chance that Atletico Madrid will progress to this year’s final. Perhaps that is preferable to recent years when they have come even closer to glory, but it will undoubtedly hurt that their fiercest rivals have once again crushed their hopes of success on club football’s greatest stage.
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