Careful what you wish for

Years ago, with Real Madrid at the pinnacle of world football, many labeled the Madrid derby as one of the least competitive in football. Years later, they are still correct; however it’s Atletico Madrid who are now the dominant side in the Spanish capital.

Zinedine Zidane’s first derby as Coach is markedly different to those he experienced as a player as Los Merengues again fell to Simeone’s side. At this point in time, Atleti are assuredly the better team – at least head-to-head.

However, with this loss, Madrid lost more than just bragging rights. As far as everyone, including Zidane himself, is concerned; La Liga is out of reach for this season. Already a tough ask, Barcelona’s win against Sevilla put a 12-point chasm between themselves and their Clasico rivals, a gap which was only two points when the Frenchman took over.

You can never say never in football, but Atleti and Barca fans are likely already dancing on the grave of what looks to be a failed title challenge by their rivals.

10-2 demolitions over Rayo Vallecano and 6-0 wins against Espanyol are great to see. However, winning a title requires wins against the teams around you, and thus far, Los Blancos have failed to beat any side in the top five of the table.

Madrid’s struggles against their close rivals are well-documented as yesterday’s loss marked their seventh failed attempt to topple Los Rojiblancos. Atletic went as far as making history, having become the first away team to win three matches in a row at the Santiago Bernabeu.

No matter who is in charge, they can never seem to get the better of Simeone tactically. Though at times his job was done for him. Antoine Griezmann was allowed to at the Madrid defence completely unchallenged, lay the ball off to the marauding Filipe Luis and get it straight back to score the only goal of the game.

Rafa Benitez was blasted for not playing a holding midfielder against Barcelona, and – like his predecessor – Zidane chose not to utilise someone like Casemiro in a big game, perhaps to his side’s detriment. This one defensive lapse, though, is perhaps more forgivable than the profligacy they showed over 90 minutes, however.

Zizou named an offensive team, but they were toothless in attack as neither Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema nor James Rodriguez could adequately test Jan Oblak, the latter two being hauled off for younger players.

Not often do Los Blancos fail to score at home. In fact it has only happened once in the last two campaigns – against, of all teams, Atleti. Again, a great deal of credit must go to Cholo and the way he sets up his teams as a midfield quartet of Koke, Augusto Fernandez, Gabi and Saul Niguez stifled much of their arch-rivals’ creativity. Resolute as always, the Argentine’s side have only conceded 11 goals in 26 matches, of which four came against Barca.

All of those frustrations came to the surface as Cristiano Ronaldo demanded more from his teammates, saying “if everyone had my level, we’d be first,” which is unlikely to do anything for squad morale, currently scraping the ground at this point.

While Madrid are now all-but-out of the title race, Los Colchoneros by contrast are in with a slight chance of catching Barca at the summit. It was concerted and dogged effort on the part of Simeone and his charges.

His team toiled to a 0-0 at PSV in midweek before heading to the Bernabeu, one of the most feared places in world football – or at least it used to be for Atleti.

Just before Simeone’s arrival, Madrid hadn’t lost a capital derby in 12 years. Madridistas cheekily held up a banner saying ‘rival wanted for decent derby’, and now they’ve got one. And perhaps they wish they didn’t.