Madrid pull off another derbi comeback, break Atleti hearts
MADRID — Rodrygo, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior scored as Real Madrid came back from a goal down to beat Atletico Madrid 3-1 after extra time in their Copa del Rey quarterfinal at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday.
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Atletico went ahead in the 19th minute when captain Koke’s pass found full-back Nahuel Molina, whose cross left Alvaro Morata with a straightforward finish. Substitute Rodrygo levelled in the second half, beating three Atletico defenders before slotting past Jan Oblak. Stefan Savic was sent off in extra time to leave Atletico down to 10 men, before Benzema put the home side ahead and Vinicius added a late third to put Madrid into the semifinals alongside Barcelona, Osasuna and Athletic Club.
JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Real break Atletico hearts in another Bernabeu comeback
It’s been a tough season for Atletico Madrid. Their Champions League campaign was a disaster — finishing bottom of their group to miss out on even Europa League football — and their target in LaLiga is simply a top-four finish. Now their last chance of a trophy, the Copa del Rey, has been taken away from them by their local rivals in heartbreaking fashion.
Atletico led for an hour at the Bernabeu, thanks to Morata’s goal, but if we’ve learned anything from watching Real Madrid in cup competitions over the last year, it’s that they never know when they’re beaten. From the moment Rodrygo’s spectacular effort hit the back of the net for the equaliser, you knew there would be only one winner.
Benzema’s extra-time strike — and Vinicius’ icing-on-the-cake third — came as no surprise at all. And while the drama didn’t quite match last year’s Champions League comeback wins over Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, it shared some of the same DNA: a resolute refusal to accept defeat, and goal scorers Rodrygo, Benzema and Vinicius stepping up with key moments of individual quality.
Madrid derbies are rarely won easily. Since Diego Simeone took over at Atletico more than a decade ago, they’ve been intense, tight affairs. In fact, the past six meetings between these two clubs in one-off games — the 2013 Copa del Rey final, the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals, the 2018 UEFA Super Cup final, the 2020 Spanish Supercopa final and now here — have all gone to extra time. But while there are exceptions — the 2013 Copa final was won by Atletico, as was the 2018 Super Cup — those clashes have tended to go Real Madrid’s way.
Here, the tiny pocket of Atletico fans up in the corner of the Bernabeu had to endure another long, ultimately fruitless evening at this stadium, while Madrid can look forward to the semifinal draw and the chance of another trophy.
2. Vinicius gives everything on the pitch after facing more racism off it
The spotlight here was always going to be on Vinicius after the Real Madrid forward was subjected to yet another sickening racist incident in the build-up to this derby. The condemnation for whoever was responsible for hanging a dummy wearing the forward’s shirt from a bridge near Madrid’s training ground was swift — Real Madrid, Atletico, LaLiga and the Spanish football federation all issued statements on Thursday — and the Bernabeu crowd were quick to show their support too, singing Vinicius’ name before kickoff.
Madrid’s best early moments all involved Vinicius, but they couldn’t capitalise. In the eighth minute, a one-two with Benzema left the Brazil international alone in front of goal, only for defender Reinildo to race across and execute a perfect, last-ditch slide tackle. With half an hour played, Vinicius tempted Savic into a rash challenge on the edge of the Atletico box, and Toni Kroos’ free kick delivery was headed over the bar by Eder Militao.
Later, Mario Hermoso was booked for taking out Vinicius as he looked to race past the Atletico defence. He tried everything — and looked as likely as anyone to create a Madrid equaliser — but was unable to convert until the final seconds, when he ran at a tiring Atletico and finished low into the corner, a fitting end to a performance of nonstop effort.
3. Morata threatens to haunt his old club once again
Atletico’s opener was Morata’s third goal against Real Madrid. The previous two came in a high-stakes setting, too: the 2015 Champions League semifinals, as he scored in both legs to help Juventus knock out Madrid. This, though, was his first wearing an Atletico shirt.
The forward has an antagonistic relationship with Madrid’s fans. They were never entirely convinced by him when he played here at the Bernabeu — an academy product, there were doubts if he was quite good enough to be Madrid’s centre-forward — and have enjoyed taunting him since his cross-city move to Atletico.
In fact, Morata celebrated his goal by covering the first three letters of his name on the back of his shirt, to leave “rata” showing — the Spanish word for rat — in reference to one of the many insults thrown his way. It was a promising start, but a relatively quiet display after that, until he was substituted to a chorus of whistles in the 63rd minute.
The goal turned out to be a brief moment of joy for Morata, long forgotten by the time the final whistle went.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Rodrygo, Real Madrid. Scored a goal-of-the-season contender, dribbling past Hermoso, Savic and Axel Witsel before an impudent outside-of-the-foot finish past Oblak.
BEST: Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid. Looks increasingly comfortable at the base of midfield and coped remarkably well when switched to left-back.
BEST: Eder Militao, Atletico Madrid. Another outstanding, all-round defensive display of strength, pace and ability on the ball.
WORST: Ferland Mendy, Real Madrid. Failed to pick up Morata for his goal and went off injured before half-time.
WORST: Federico Valverde, Real Madrid. Still doesn’t look close to recapturing his pre-World Cup form.
WORST: Thomas Lemar, Atletico Madrid. Struggled to make any kind of impact in midfield.
Highlights and notable moments
The close control. The outside-of-the-boot finish. The pointing at the name on the back of the shirt. What’s not to love from Rodrygo?
RODRYGO OUT OF THIS WORLD! 😱 pic.twitter.com/wTGaXF6ZvV
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 26, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Benzema: “It was a difficult game, but with character and the players we have, we were able to come back. It isn’t good to suffer, we should score earlier. … It’s a unique game. They defend deep and it’s difficult for us, the most important thing is to keep going. … [Rodrygo] scored a great goal, he has a lot of talent.”
Oblak: “We played a good first half. The second half wasn’t so good, they increased their rhythm and equalised. We went down to 10 men and it was even more difficult. We had chances, we played well and the red card for Savic punished us, but that’s football.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Morata’s goal was his third career goal against former club Madrid, and his first against Los Blancos as a member of Atletico.
– Prior to Thursday, Madrid had not conceded first in a league-play derbi since 1949.
– Rodrygo has two goals in his past 19 appearances for Madrid in all competitions, but both were either game-winning or game-tying goals.
– Real Madrid’s last comeback win over Atletico was the 2014 Champions League final.
Real Madrid: Madrid will return to LaLiga action on Sunday, when they welcome Real Sociedad to the Bernabeu (3 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).
Atletico Madrid: Atleti travel to Pamplona on Sunday for a LaLiga meeting against Osasuna (10 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).