Atlético Madrid crashed out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday night after slumping to a 1-0 defeat at home to eternal rivals Real Madrid.
We were excited for this game. The city of Madrid was excited for this game. The supporters of both sides were up for it. In the end, the only people who weren’t, it seems, were the players.
In what was a dull, and at times practically boring affair, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the only goal 20 minutes in to advance Real Madrid to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in the last five years.
At Wednesday morning’s practice session, Atlético players arrived and were surprised to see a huge banner running around the side of their training complex. ‘Un Atlético nunca se rinde’ it read. An Atlético never gives up.
3-1 down from the first leg at the Bernabeu, it was obvious that the odds were stacked against Atleti. And with our attacking talisman Sergio Aguero ruled out for the next two weeks with a hamstring injury, they were now stacked even higher.
Thursday night’s performance did little to disprove the theory that, at the moment, we are absolutely a one-man team. Without Kun, even before the game, supporters doubted our chances. They didn’t think we’d have the firepower to overcome Mourinho’s men. They didn’t think we’d be able to shut out Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates. But they never thought, for even a second, that we wouldn’t even try.
Apart from a six or seven minute spell at the start of the both halves where we had some well-worked attacks stopped by Casillas, we never really threatened Real’s lead in the tie.
Elías started his first derby match well, aggressive and looking to attack with the ball, but couldn’t fashion any meaningful opportunities. The assistant referee wasn’t helping our case though, wrongfully flagging against the Atlético attack for offside several times throughout the game; once in the opening stages of the game against Forlán which could have spelt a good start for los Rojiblancos.
Lady luck almost smiled on Atleti in the first quarter of an hour. A Casillas clearance was blocked by Jose Antonio Reyes and the Spanish keeper was lucky the ball didn’t end up in the back of his own net.
That was the only luck Atlético were going to get all night though. Just a few short minutes later, and in Real’s first substantial attack, they got the only goal of the game.
A Sergio Ramos run was picked out beautifully by Xabi Alonso, who chipped the ball delicately to the defender. A quick low cross ahead of the retreating defence left Cristiano Ronaldo with too much space, and he smashed the ball into the top corner past David de Gea.
Not too long after and Quique had to make a change. Reyes had been literally kicked out of the game by Arbeloa and was substituted for Diego Costa. Pairing him with Forlan up front, Sanchez Flores looked to play a more conventional two-man attack, but it made very little difference to the end result.
Diego Costa played very well however, and will be happy with his contribution, but he is one of few Atleti players that will be entitled to. He created a number of opportunities with powerful runs to the goal-line followed by a quick cross into the six-yard box. Unluckily for Atleti, there was nobody there to latch on to the end of it.
Long shots and sloppy passes were to dominate the rest of the game for the red and whites. Assuncao, Elias and Filipe were all players that had opportunities from outside the box. Our ‘star striker’ Diego Forlan again looked out-of-place, and his body language wasn’t a lot better than his performance. One memorable shot after a promising attack could easily have gone out for a throw in.
Two thirds of the way into the game, Tiago was withdrawn in favour of Juanfran, who was fired up for this game against his former club. He picked up a booking fairly quickly and was very lucky not to be sent off following an ankle stomp.
The similarly unimpressive Fran Merida was substituted with 15 minutes left in favour of Alberto Perea, who had a few good touches but nothing that was ever going to change the result of this one.
With Real Madrid cancelling out our away goal so soon, heads dropped, and Atleti were lucky not to lose this one by more. A superb backheel by Ronaldo in first half stoppage time caught out three Atlético defenders and put Di María clear through on goal. Juan Valera got back quickly though and managed to stop the Argentine winger from making it 2-0 at half time.
They almost got a second towards the end too, as some exquisite footwork from Kaka almost set up Ronaldo for his second, if not for a well-timed tackle from Filipe.
The aftermath and repercussions of this game will perhaps be talked about more than the game itself. Atlético have now been knocked out of both cup competitions, two of the only positives from last season.
Sitting sixth in the league, Atleti now have to focus on breaking into the top four and put together some consistent performances.
Line-up: De Gea, Valera, Ujfalusi, Perea, Filipe, Assunçao, Tiago (“66 Juanfran), Elias, Fran Mérida (“73 A Perea), Reyes (“26 Costa) and Forlán
Goals: 1-0 Cristiano Ronaldo (“23)