Sunday, December 2, 2012
Ronaldo's genius ensures derby success
Atletico Madrid's wait for a derby win over city rivals Real will stretch into a fourteenth year after
a goal and an assist from Cristiano Ronaldo saw his side to a very straightforward win a very underwhelming game at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday night.
Given the two teams' recent form the game had been built up beforehand as Atletico's big chance for a first derby win this century, but Diego Simeone's team never threatened once Ronaldo had ended a 310 minute barren spell by firing his side ahead on 15 minutes.
Marca had reported Saturday morning that when Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Angel Di Maria practiced free-kicks after training on Friday, Ronaldo (who had yet to score one this season from 13 previous attempts) declined to take part. The rest seemed to work, with the Portuguese eschewing his usual 'tomahawk' approach and more delicately curling the ball over the wall and down to the bottom corner of Thibaut Courtois' net to open the scoring.
The quality of the goal stood out in a first half which was very niggly, with very little football played. Atletico's Diego Costa seemed more concerned with annoying Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Xabi Alonso than getting on the ball. There was also an ongoing battle on the sideline, with Mourinho more than once asking the fourth official to censure Simeone for leaving his technical area and straying onto the pitch, and both men regularly haranguing referee Undiano Mallenco, who to neutral eyes was having a good game.
With Mourinho continuing to avoid the Madrid press as often as he can get away with, assistant coach Aitor Karanka was on duty afterwards. The former Madrid defender said his side had been in control of proceedings throughout.
"The game was under control once we were winning 1-0," Karanka said. "At that stage we did not want to have any problems at the back. At the break we talked about maintaining our position, we knew we had dangerous players up front who could cause them problems. At the end it was a good game, with lots of work, under control in all moments."
Madrid did have more chances after half-time, with Atletico eventually having to commit players forward, leaving space for Ronaldo, Ozil and Karim Benzema to exploit. They did not have to do much for their second goa,l however, as visiting centre-back Miranda missed a basic clearing header allowing Madrid to spring forward in numbers. Ronaldo's initial pass to Benzema was cut out, but he then cleverly switched the ball across to Ozil, who calmly fired low under Courtois.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone's analysis was not very different from Karanka's, although he claimed that Ronaldo's early opening goal had determined the rest of the game.
"The game started calm, without a chance for either team," Simeone said. "Until their first goal our team was fine. They scored from their first shot. From there it was clearly more difficult, they had the game under control. We were not able to make progress in attack. If we had done that, it would have helped psychologically."
Atletico's players did seem to shrink into themselves as the game went on, with even Costa giving up trying to intimidate his opponents. One man continued to stand out though - with Ronaldo twice denied another goal by the woodwork. While his contract situation remains up in the air, nobody can doubt his commitment once he gets on the pitch, or his ability to produce in big La Liga games. Saturday's goal means he has eight in eight derbies against Atletico, all of which Madrid have won.
Karanka said Ronaldo's performance should quieten those who say his "sadness" is affecting his form.
"Cristiano has scored again, there were people saying he was not doing that," Karanka said. "He also gave the pass for the second goal and hit the crossbar. He will continue along the same line."
In contrast, Radamel Falcao cut a forlorn figure up front for Atletico, with his most noticeable contribution a frustrated looking hack on Madrid sub Jose Callejon that brought a late yellow card. It would be unfair to single out anyone though, as Atletico, once more did not show up for the derby. Madrid's ultras got to enjoy themselves yet again, holding up an irony-filled banner on the final whistle which read: "Today, the incredible story of the Atletico fan who claims to have seen his team win." Even the most hardcore Colchonero supporter would have found it tough to answer back.
For a game which was built up so much, it was - Ronaldo aside - pretty much a disappointment. Madrid's greater individual quality and big game experience saw them through, and their fans were unlikely to be complaining about the lack of entertainment on show. The most contented spectators will have been 500 miles away in Catalonia, where Barcelona had earlier beaten Athletic Bilbao 5-1, to stretch six points clear of Atletico, and remain eleven ahead of Madrid in the table.
Karanka would not be drawn when asked by a Catalan journalist if La Liga was already over. "We will work to cut the gap and fight for all titles until the end," he said. At this point, it is all they can do.