It was supposed to be the biggest derby for years. Atletico Madrid had lost just once in 19 League games since their last meeting with Madrid back in April, whereas the champions had already lost three times this season – once more than they did in the whole of last year’s record breaking campaign.
Atleti were resurgent, Madrid reeling, and at least for 15 minutes the game itself lived up to that script, Iker Casillas making a brave stop at his near post to stop Radamel Falcao converting Diego Costa’s low cross.
But in the 16th minute the game was already gone. After weeks of ridicule over his inefficiency from free-kicks Cristiano Ronaldo produced one of his best ever, caressing the ball with the inside of his foot rather than going for the sheer power and dip he usually does, and leaving Thibaut Courtois helpless from fully 35 yards.
“Until the goal, I think my team did well,” said Diego Simeone afterwards, effectively summing up the response of his side for the remaining 74 minutes.
Thereafter Ronaldo seemed the only one interested in playing football. Costa trundled around flailing arms like a child that had just had his dummy taken off him, whilst Falcao’s most significant contribution was to go down like a felled oak tree when trying to claim he had been hit in the face by Sergio Ramos.
Ronaldo though was hungry for more; forcing Courtois into a hurried save from an even more ludicrous distance before half-time and then effectively settling the game with a fine reverse pass for Mesut Ozil to slot home the second goal 25 minutes from time.
The Portuguese wasn’t finished there though. He made an astonishing 96 metre run in 10 seconds flat to meet an Ozil through ball in one of the quickest counter-attacks you’ll ever see – only to see his effort at the end of it strike the post – before cannoning another free-kick off the bar.
Atleti meanwhile offered nothing of note. “We just could not move forward in attack,” admitted Simeone, whilst Jose Mourinho again left Press conference duties to Aitor Karanka. The Los Blancos assistant was inundated with questions regarding his colleague’s melodramatic stance in front of almost an empty stadium forty minutes before kick-off.
Mourinho had promised to make such an appearance on the pitch to allow the fans to make their feelings towards him known after those who sang his name in the Copa del Rey second-leg against Alcoyano were booed earlier in the week.
“Jose always shows face” was the somewhat comical line used by Karanka to a large group of journalists who had been awaiting the Special One’s presence. Instead the talk should have been about his compatriot who did, and always does, show up.
Elsewhere only one remains of the Pochettino, Pellegrino, Pellegrini triumvirate that haunted confused journalists at the start of the season as Mauricio Pellegrino followed Mauricio Pochettino in being sacked after Valencia were hammered again, albeit for the first time at home this season, 5-2 by Real Sociedad.
Ernesto Valverde will take charge for the rest of the season and despite a very poor run of late things are far from lost for Los Che. They remain just seven points off the final Champions League place, which appears wide open, and are through to the last 16 of both the Champions League and Copa del Rey.
Other Coaches that could be under pressure though are Granada’s Juan Antonio Anquela – after the Los Carmenes crowd cried for his departure at the end of a 0-0 draw with Espanyol which kept both sides in the bottom three – and Joaquin Caparros as his Mallorca side failed to beat Real Zaragoza despite the visitors being down to 10 men for 78 minutes. Indeed the Islanders were five minutes away from losing and have now not won in 11 games.