New twist, same old Atlético
Real Madrid wins yet another derby to assume six-point lead over Barcelona
There was not much new to be learned in Saturday night's capital derby at the Bernabéu. The only twist came near the beginning of a generally familiar tale of capitulation and gloating; Atlético Madrid took an early lead, instead of giving Real a head start as has so often been the case in the past 12 years of ignominy for the city's poorer relation.
But in those 12 years since the last time red-and-white stripes came out on top, Atlético has shown that it has a seemingly limitless number of ways to throw it all away. Combine that with the fact that this Real is an extraordinarily potent attacking force, and you get an explosive multiplication of probabilities in the white shirts' favor.
The lively Adrián was the cherry on Atlético's cake, his cool finish putting the visitor ahead after 13 minutes. But the lone striker's goal ultimately only served to make Real's display of superiority even sweeter, as poor decision-making in the Atlético back line gave the home forwards generous opportunities to take the game in the opposite direction.
The first and most cataclysmic rush of blood to the head was that of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, whose mistimed attempt to intercept the ball at Karim Benzema's feet just 10 minutes after Adrián's goal left the referee with no choice but to point to the penalty spot and brandish a red card. Cristiano Ronaldo waited patiently while Sergio Asenjo was sent out to play (with the talented Diego Atlético's sacrificial lamb in the substitution) before scoring the first of two penalties on the night to overtake Leo Messi at the top of the Liga goal chart with 16.
Real now had control of the game and plenty of time to find the precise manner in which to impose itself on its smaller rival. But to Atleti's credit the team competed well for the rest of the first half, with two compact defensive lines stunting the creativity of Mesut Özil and Ángel di María, while still managing to carry some threat on the break even without the link play of Diego at its disposal. For Real, Marcelo, often combining well with Ronaldo down the left flank, appeared to provide the likeliest route to what would surely be the crucial second goal.
But Gregorio Manzano's men did not start the second half as if they believed they would be able to keep it up for another 45 minutes - anything but. It took exactly four minutes for the gap to appear, four minutes in which not one Atlético player managed to put his foot on the ball. As seemed likely, a path opened up on the right side of the visiting defense and Ronaldo showed tenacity in swinging a pass across the area which Di María thumped home unopposed.
A dreadful error by Diego Godín gave Gonzalo Higuaín the gift any substitute would cherish for almost his first touch of the game, and the same Uruguayan defender conceded another penalty (and became Atlético's second red-card victim) to end another derby to forget for Atlético fans. Coach José Mourinho criticized Atlético's "roughhouse" approach to the game, giving credit to "carbon shin pads" for the fact that none of his players had been injured.
A few miles to the south, Getafe then completed a satisfying Saturday night for Madrid, the home team handing Barcelona its first defeat of the season to extend Real's lead at the top to six points. Juan Valera headed home a corner for the only goal of the game which saw Barça denied by a combination of goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyá, good defending and the woodwork. "This is not over yet," said Barça striker David Villa, adding that his team could "quite easily" beat Real in the season's first clásico in two weeks' time.
Other results: Rayo 1-2 Valencia; Betis 2-3 Sociedad; Levante 4-0 Sporting; Mallorca Racing; Espanyol Osasuna.