MADRID — Three points on the 1-1 draw between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in La Liga.
1. Stars shine in low-key derbi
In-form forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann were both on the scoresheet as the spoils were shared in a Madrid derbi that saw both teams have at least half an eye elsewhere.
It was billed pre-game as a “decaf-derbi” due to Barcelona’s dominance of the title race, with even Atletico president Enrique Cerezo admitting that neither his team nor Real had a chance to catch the leaders.
But the morbo rivalry started early with cheers for Atletico right-back Juanfran Torres that recalled his missed penalty in the 2016 Champions League final shootout. And there was a feisty nature to the early stages, with early yellow cards on either side for Toni Kroos and Vitolo.
That it was still scoreless at half-time was mostly due to goalkeepers Jan Oblak and Keylor Navas, though the woodwork also played a role with the home team’s Marcelo and Marco Asensio hitting the crossbar. Meanwhile, the officials missed a penalty following a foul on Toni Kroos by Juanfran and twice called back clean-through Atletico forwards due to mistaken offside calls.
Goals were coming, though, and eight minutes into the second half Ronaldo’s right-foot volley – though not as spectacular as that which he managed vs. Juventus in midweek — expertly guided home Gareth Bale’s cross. Atletico reacted well, however, and within four minutes Griezmann finished smartly after the home defence had been too easily cut open.
Navas then made a smart stop from Koke as Atletico tried to maintain momentum, while another counter-attack saw Saul slide an effort just wide from 20 yards. At the other end, Bale headed wide from near the penalty spot and Sergio Ramos’ late free kick brought an excellent stop from Oblak. Madrid’s captain headed the resulting corner just over.
One point apiece was fair for two teams whose focus is on Europa competition. It also means Barca are even closer to being crowned 2017-18 champions.
2. Ronaldo impresses in limited time
Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal final second leg, Zidane rotated heavily, with Luka Modric and Karim Benzema among those rested. Ronaldo kept his place in the XI, though, and was twice denied by Oblak during the first half.
The Portuguese forward got his goal when Atletico’s back-up left-back Lucas Hernandez lost the flight of missed completely Bale’s looping cross. But it still required a well-controlled finish by Ronaldo, who guided a 12-yard volley beyond Atletico’s impressive shot-stopper to find the net for a 10th consecutive game. It took Ronaldo to 22 goals in 30 career games vs Atletico and was also the 500th by anyone in a derbi.
Zidane showed he was thinking about Juventus and the rest of the season by removing the 33-year-old with 25 minutes still to play. Bale completed the 90 minutes, but his performance only really confirmed that the €101 million galactico is mostly a back-up option at the moment. Ronaldo remains the main man, and how.
3. Griezmann ensures Atletico stay set for second
Atletico’s response to falling behind was impressive, with Diego Simeone’s side immediately taking the initiative.
Thomas Partey’s ball behind the home defence found Griezmann. He played in Vitolo and then, after Navas had denied the winger, the French international cleverly followed to slide home. Griezmann thus marked his 200th game for the club with his 108th goal, 18 of which have come in 20 games during 2018.
It was reward for an excellent all-round display in a linking role between midfield and centre-forward Diego Costa, one that Madrid found difficult to deal with. Griezmann might have had scored earlier in the game if Costa, who had a frustrating afternoon, had spotted him eight yards out. Nevertheless, the former Real Sociedad player has scored a league goal vs. Madrid in each of the last six seasons and on his last three visits to the Bernabeu.
Simeone’s removal of Costa with 20 minutes left suggested he was thinking of Atletico’s Europa League campaign but the rojiblancos’ boss will be pleased with the final score, which keeps his side second, four points ahead of their neighbours with seven games remaining.
Atletico have finished as the capital’s top team just once in the last 21 years — when they won title in 2013-14 – but look set to do so again. Moreover, with Griezmann in this form they will fancy adding the Europa League and that would mean it has not be a bad season at all.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan