On Saturday, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid met for the sixth (!) time this season. And for the sixth time Real Madrid failed to get a win against the team it last beat when they met in the 2014 Champions League final.
After this season’s two Spanish Super Cup and two Copa del Rey clashes, and September’s La Liga clash at the Bernabeu, a 2-1 Real loss, Atletico hosted needing a win to keep realistic its hopes of retaining the La Liga crown it won last season. Coach Diego Simeone’s team didn’t just win. It outclassed Ronaldo and Co., in a 4-0 victory that pulled it within four points of the La Liga lead.
Here are three takeaways from the Madrid derby.
1. Barcelona gets a boost.
Up till 2013, Atletico Madrid had gone 14 years without beating Real Madrid. Since 2004, no team besides Real Madrid and Barcelona had won La Liga. Atletico’s title last season final broke the stranglehold -- and its win on Saturday means this season remains a three-horse race.
For Barcelona, a win on Sunday at 12-place Athletic Bilbao would pull it within a point of Real Madrid and three points ahead of Atletico with 16 games to play. Barca still plays both rivals.
2. Simeone's men do sparkle.
In the buildup, Atletico found itself defending accusations from the Spanish media for a “violent” approach. On Saturday, the teams fouled at a similar rate -- Atletico’s 16 to Real’s 17 -- while five Atletico players received yellows and Real two.
But Atletico played by far the better soccer, starting in midfield, where Tiago, Saul and Gabi outshone Real’s German World Cup winners Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira and the Spaniard Isco. Real rarely got the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema. When it did, the Atletico defense, led by Uruguayan Diego Godin, playing with a broken nose, shut them down quickly (and usually fairly).
On the other end, Frenchman Antoine Griezmann and Croat Mario Mandzukic constantly befuddled the Real backline.
Real managed only one shot on goal and four overall -- compared to Atletico’s 17 efforts, eight which were on frame. Two of the four goals were beauties.
3. Better call Saul.
Real entered the game without injured James, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Pepe, and without suspended Marcelo. But Atletico didn’t miss a beat when it lost midfield stalwart Koke to injury in the 10th minute and brought on 20-year-old Saul.
Four minutes later, Tiago’s shot from 18 yards over-powered the right paw of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who’ll be embarrassed when he sees the replays. In the 18th minute, Saul scored on a six-yard, left-footed bicycle kick.
Atletico kept offensive pressure on throughout the game. In the 67th minute, Saul skied to head a ball across the goalmouth that Griezmann was credited with poking in –- although it may have been a Raphael Varane own goal.
To cap Atletico’s glorious day, Mandzukic beat Casillas in the 89th minute with a perfect diving header off a cross from late sub Fernando Torres.
TRIVIA: The last time Atletico won both its La Liga games against Real Madrid came in the 1950-51 season.
Feb. 7 in Madrid
Atletico Madrid 4 Real Madrid 0. Goals: Tiago 14, Saul 18, Griezmann 67, Mandzukic 89.
Atletico Madrid -- Moya Rumbo, Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Siqueira, Turan, Gabi, Tiago, Koke (Saul, 10; Raul Garcia, 71), Mandzukic, Griezmann (Torres, 77).
Real Madrid -- Casillas, Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Fabio Coentrao, Khedira (Jese, 45), Kroos, Isco (Illarramendi, 68), Bale, Benzema (Hernandez, 73), Cristiano Ronaldo.
Referee: David Fernandez Borbalan.