Very few football fans would have predicted 15 months ago that Atletico Madrid was about to become Real Madrid’s worst nightmare. That night of September 2013, the Colchoneros ended a 14-year victory drought against Los Blancos. Ever since, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have seriously struggled every time they have faced their city rivals.
Los Merengues have not won any of their last five clashes against Atletico. Some might argue the real number is actually six, as in the Champions League final the 90 minutes ended with a 1-1 draw, although Madrid would go on to win in extra time.
Be it as it may, it seems clear that Madrid have found a pebble in their shoe since Diego Simeone started coaching the Vicente Calderon side. But why is it so hard for Los Blancos to beat Atletico? Here are a few reasons:
1. Atletico’s defensive strength:
The Colchoneros are probably the best defending team in football. They keep their lines tightly close, including the forward line, making it almost impossible for the rival to find space in attack. They fight for every ball, help each other and always keep a high level of intensity. Moreover, when they face their Madrid city rivals, that intensity doubles and their defensive commitment increases immensely. They know that without conceding goals, most of the job is done.
2. Lack of concentration:
It is very hard to be completely focused during 90 minutes. Diego Simeone knows that and has taught his players to take advantage of every little mistake their rival could make. In the Champions League final, Atletico’s goal was allowed by Iker Casillas’ poor goalkeeping. Mistakes from Sergio Ramos and Pepe were key in the last summer’s Supercopa loss, and again this week in the two goals Fernando Torres scored at the Santiago Bernabeu.
3. The strikers’ profile:
Carlo Ancelotti’s men played brilliantly on the wings last Thursday and were able to send a number of dangerous crosses into the box. However, Diego Godin and Joao Miranda always anticipated Los Blancos strikers’ moves and cleared all danger. Karim Benzema is one of the finest forwards in the world, but perhaps he’s not the best option for getting muddy and fighting such beasts. If sending crosses from the sides is the chosen strategy, the Frenchman is not the most adequate target.
Playing against a team that takes defending to such a level of perfection, you always need some luck to open the score. The last comfortable Real Madrid win over Atletico, a 3-0 victory in last season’s Copa del Rey, came thanks to two own goals, as Pepe and Angel di Maria’s long-ranged shots defected of two defenders.
Certainly Real Madrid have proved to be perfectly capable of beating Atletico, but they need to improve some small details and keep an extremely high level of concentration. They’ll have their next chance in three weeks, as they’ll pay a visit to their arch-rivals in La Liga.