Atlético were resigned to yet another derby defeat on Wednesday night as rivals Real Madrid ran out 4-1 winners in the Vicente Calderón.
Cristiano Ronaldo hit a sensational hat-trick to secure the points for José Mourinho’s side, who avoided a potential banana skin in their race against Barcelona for the league title.
With the home fans in full voice, Atleti started brightly as Diego sought to take the reins in midfield and dominate right from the off. After an early shot from Di María the Brazilian broke away, but missed the chance to play Falcao in one-on-one just at the crucial moment.
The Colombian had two chances inside the first 20 minutes to give us the lead, nearly catching out Casillas with a deflected effort, and then completely fluffing his lines from a Gabi free-kick with the six-yard box at his mercy.
Real didn’t get their customary early goal, but had a chance early on when Ramos’ bullet header was well blocked. Not long later they would be appealing for a penalty, but Ronaldo’s theatrical fall was ignored by referee Delgado Ferreiro.
However, the world record signing would not be kept quiet for long, and opened the scoring on 25 minutes with a trademark long range free-kick.
When Benzema was hauled down 30 yards from goal there didn’t seem to be too much danger, but Cristiano Ronaldo had other ideas, stepping up to fire a dipping free-kick past a static Courtois and silencing the raucous home crowd.
The Belgian ‘keeper looked to have lost his footing on the strike, and paid the full price as Real got the crucial first goal that they had craved.
The home side did what they could to respond but just seemed to lose their rhythm when it got to the final third. Benzema came closest to finding the game’s second goal just before the break, but his header shaved the outside of the post.
In similar fashion to our home game against Barça back in February, Simeone clearly got into the players at half-time and it had the desired effect yet again.
Nine minutes after the restart Adrián picked up the ball on the left-wing, before looking up and playing a perfect cross in for Radamel Falcao to head emphatically past the reach of Iker Casillas and bring the roof off the Calderón.
The goal lifted spirits and had home fans believing that we could end our miserable derby run, but also saw the away side click into gear and attend fully to the task at hand. As just about everybody on the planet knows, Real had to win to keep the title in their own hands, and soon upped the intensity and started taking the game to the red and whites.
Coentrão and Pepe both came close around the hour mark, but it was that man again Cristiano Ronaldo who made the difference when needed. With 68 minutes on the clock, the Portuguese attacker skipped inside before unleashing another fabulous strike into the top corner.
Once again the ball swivelled and swerved in the air, with Courtois helpless as it flew past him for 1-2.
Atleti tried again with all their might to stage another fight back, and Falcao will perhaps feel he should have tied things up for the second time when he headed Juanfran’s cross over from close range.
The former Porto man then had another headed chance similar to the one in which he scored from in the final quarter of an hour, but couldn’t get enough power to find the net.
As it were, Real took advantage of our tired legs in the final minutes, and Ronaldo completed his hat-trick after Godín was penalised for a clumsy challenge on Higuaín.
Substitute José Callejon completed the rout a couple of minutes from the end, latching onto a pass from Cristiano to slot home his thirteenth goal of the season.
Courtois went some way towards redeeming himself in the closing stages as he denied Ronaldo what would’ve been a fabulous fourth with a smart save, before Diego came inches away from grabbing a consolation goal when his side-footed effort hit the post.
As it were though, the curse continues and it will be another year before we can finally get one over our cross-town rivals. A slightly flattering scoreline does little more than reflect a professional performance from los Merengues, and an underwhelming one from Simeone’s team, who suffered successive defeats for the first time since his appointment.
On Sunday we will have to pick ourselves up for another Madrid derby, as we make the short trip to unpredictable Rayo Vallecano in the late game.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Perea, Godín, Filipe; Tiago, Gabi, Arda (“77 Koke); Diego Adrián and Falcao.
Goals: 0-1 Ronaldo (“25); 1-1 Falcao (“55); 1-2 Ronaldo (“55); 1-3 Ronaldo p.k. (“83); 1-4 Callejón (“88)