Atletico derbi woes continue
Almost 14 years. Or 704 weeks. Or 4,929 days. Or 24 games. They have all passed since the Atletico's last win over city rivals Real Madrid, a 3-1 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 10, 1999, with Claudio Ranieri on the visitors' bench and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink  and Jose Mari on the scoresheet.
John Toshack was Real Madrid manager, Radamel Falcao had recently made his senior debut for Lanceros Boyaca aged just 13 at home in Colombia, and Diego Simeone was on the way to winning the Serie A title as a midfielder for Lazio.
Surely this was the moment to end the suffering. Madrid were travelling south across the city to the Estadio Vincente Calderon without Cristiano Ronaldo, and with Borussia Dortmund mostly on their minds. But even after Falcao had headed them ahead on three minutes, against an understrength and undermotivated Real Madrid side, Atletico just could not do it.
A farcical own goal from Juanfran drew Madrid level within eight minutes, and a poor game was settled by its best moment of quality in the second half when Angel Di Maria slotted sweetly home after being released by Karim Benzema. It was an awful, awful night for Atletico, and fans had started slipping quietly out of the stadium long before the final whistle from referee Miguel Angel Perez Lasa brought Atletico's winless derbi run to 25.
A few hours earlier there had been a mix of confidence and trepidation among the Colchoneros fans filing to the game along the banks of the Manzanares, and down along the pretty aptly named Paseo de los Melancolicos to the Calderon. Fans, at what was only the second 54,851 full house of the season, wrapped a red and white 'mosaico' around the ground as Atletico celebrated its 110th anniversary pre-game. Diego Simeone's sides excellent home record so far this term - P14 W12 D1 L1 F40 A8 - also helped the feeling this could finally be their time.
Blancos fans and pundits were less focused on this particular game, given Tuesday's upcoming Champions League semi-final return game with Dortmund. Marca's cover Saturday morning summed up the mixed feelings. "Real Madrid play in the Calderon with their mind on their European comeback" was the strapline, with 'Derbi ... County' as the headline. This was a reference to overturning a similar 4-1 scoreline against the then English Champions in the last-16 of the 1975-76 European Cup, a performance seen as beginning the Bernabeu club's stirring history of roaring 'remontada' comebacks.
The team news was also helpful for the home side. Ronaldo, scorer of eight past derbi goals including a fantastic hat-trick at the Calderon last season, was absent resting a left thigh problem. Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao were also left at home, while Raphael Varane, Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Gonzalo Higuain on the bench, alongside Iker Casillas. Alvaro Morata [a former Atletico ball-boy], Nacho, Raul Albiol, Ricardo Carvalho, Jose Callejon and Kaka all started as Jose Mourinho showed where his priorities were.
Given all this, an almost full strength Atletico should really have been roaring favourites - but even still the bookies just about favoured Madrid, aware of many dashed hopes in previous seasons. Simeone's side had gone into November's first La Liga meeting game second in the table, eight points ahead of third placed Madrid, having won 17 of the 20 games played to that point. Hopes were high then of at least a stirring performance, but Ronaldo hammered in an early free-kick and Ozil swept home a second, and Atletico were never in the game.
They were well in it here, after only took three minutes. Diego Lopez pushed out a Gabi free-kick, Diego Godin stood up a cross to the back post where an unmarked El Tigre nodded in from two yards. The Calderon's concrete bowl shook to its [admittedly shaky] foundations.
But these roars had barely subsided when Madrid equalised from their first attack. Di Maria won a weak free-kick, took it himself and mishit his delivery towards the penalty spot. Juanfran, with no Madrid player near him, deflected the ball past past a helpless Thibaut Courtois with his hip. Typical Atleti, was the feeling.
Belief levels dropped around the stadium, and Mourinho's side began to settle into the game, but the home side's 'Frente Atletico' ultras maintained their noise levels. Sami Khedira and Pepe were booked in quick succession, bringing cries of 'assassin' [and worse] directed at the Portuguese international. Mourinho sprang from his bench to complain about another decision going Atletico's way. 'Jose Mourinho, hijo de puta' [and much worse] now rang around the ground.
There was even less creativity on the pitch. Neither team were able to put a foot on the ball and calm things down, which was not over surprising with Pepe in Alonso's deep midfield role for Madrid and Atletico without their one true playmaker Arda Turan. Simeone was a bundle of restless energy on the sideline, gesticulating and screaming, but there was little sign of a tactical plan. He turned away in anguish after Godin headed wide when left unmarked to meet a Koke free-kick eight yards out, and in dismay when Diego Costa lifted the ball over Lopez but also the crossbar close to half-time.
The first 'Ole, Ole, Ole, Cholo Simeone' chants began at start of the second period, and Atletico - still without showing much quality - began to press forward. Left-back Filipe Luis looked the most likely to conjure up something, and Raul Garcia's header from the Brazilian's cross hit the bar and was then gathered by a grateful Lopez. There was one rare piece of joined up football from Atletico, but Gabi sliced woefully wide after he'd been put clear by a clever one-two with Costa.
And then Madrid, again out of nothing, went ahead. A poor defensive header from a long hoofed clearance went straight to Karim Benzema, who had time to pick out Di Maria running into a big gap in the home back four. The Argentine - the visitors' best player on the night - arrowed a low shot across Courtois and inside the far post.
Mourinho soon sealed things up by bringing on Alonso for Kaka and that was that. Unhappy home fans started to predictably turn their ire on Perez Lasa. There were also some whistles for balls lumped forward from the back, as even the players began to lose hope of turning things around. Their desperation was shown as Costa was rightly booked for a dive inside the Madrid area. The rain which began to fall on the ground just added to the general doom and gloom.
The feeling leaving the stadium - again down the melancholics' avenue - was that if Atletico could not beat Madrid when Ronaldo, Ramos and company were absent, and the reserves and kids who played were only half-interested, and they go ahead on three minutes through Falcao, then when will they do it? That is not an easy question to answer.
Not even the most optimistic Colchonero can now look forward to May 17's Copa del Rey final against Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu with any hope. This should be a positive season for Simeone's side, who are set to finish third in La Liga and return to the Champions League next term. But none of that was any consolation on Saturday night at the Calderon. The derbi wait goes on, with no end in sight.