Atleti outshine Madrid again

The jeers reigned down from the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend. The fans understandably angered by yet another under-par performance from Real Madrid that resulted in defeat to local town rivals Atletico Madrid. With pressure mounting on Carlo Ancelotti already, nothing but three points would suffice on his side’s trip to Levante on Saturday night.

Fortunately for Ancelotti, all three points were taken back to the capital. However, the manner in which they were collected did little to silence the doubters. Real Madrid were poor, particularly in the first half where they simply struggled to break down their hosts. In the second half, they were better but they had to be. They went behind twice and if they had not reacted as they did, they would have left empty-handed.

But, they did get the job done and only in the most dramatic of circumstances. Nabil El Zhar’s goal four minutes from time had the home fans dreaming of a most unlikely win. That was until Alvaro Morata popped up with an equaliser on 90 minutes. Then deep into injury time, Cristiano Ronaldo delivered the decisive blow partly thanks to a wicked deflection.

It made for great entertainment from the neutral point of view while the Madrid Press raved about the team’s fighting spirit and the impact of local boys Jese Rodriguez and, in particular, Morata.  Ancelotti unsurprisingly sang his team’s praises: “We reacted fantastically at the end of the match. We were committed to fighting to the end and the players showed a great attitude.” But the relieved Italian also admitted: “The game was not good from a tactical and technical point of view and we have to improve.”

And improve they must. If Real Madrid’s trip to Levante can be considered an exam, this time they did pass but only be the skin of their teeth. But if Ancelotti has designs on winning the League in his first season, he has a lot of work ahead of him. 

While Ancelotti has much to ponder on how to get his charges firing on all cylinders, it is a contrasting situation across town at the Vicente Calderon. There is now serious talk of Atleti being serious title contenders after conjuring up their eighth win in eight matches with defeat of Celta Vigo – arguably their best performance to date. Diego Simeone is still refusing to believe it however, at least openly: “We can’t get over-excited though. We just have to prepare for the next game.”

Do not be fooled by the result either, Celta were never in the game. Los Rojiblancos could have and should have been out of sight by half-time. Partly due to a missed penalty by Diego Costa, they were not. Yet, in the end nothing could take away the gloss from their utterly dominant performance nor even that of Costa, who netted his ninth and 10th goals of the season and now leads Lionel Messi and Ronaldo in the scoring charts.

Atleti’s win saw them keep pace with Barcelona at the top of the standings. The Catalans were without Messi but Neymar put on an exhibition to make sure the Argentine was not missed. Taking over in the ‘false 9’ role for the first time, the Brazilian excelled as he created goals for his teammates before deservingly getting one for himself.

Read more from Frank Tigani at The Divine Ponytail.