Atlético de Madrid were two minutes away from a victory in the derby that would have been a giant step to win the League, but if anyone knows that Real Madrid is not finished until the final whistle, it is them, and so they showed again . This could, and possibly should, have been done: the game and perhaps the title as well. Instead, a late goal from Karim Benzema tied the city derby at 1-1 to keep the La Liga title race alive.
It may be considered cruel, but perhaps it was also a reward for Real’s endurance, the survival instinct that sustains them. Reward especially for the three players who support them the most: Benzema, Casemiro and Thibaut Courtois. Perhaps it was also a punishment for the fact that Atlético did not overcome it, a missed opportunity.
Luis Suárez’s early goal had brought Atlético closer, momentarily giving them an eight-point lead over their neighbors and a five-point lead over Barcelona with one game less. It was an advantage they could have added in a match they heavily controlled for over an hour, only to have it slip through their fingers at the point where they decided the best thing to do was hold on.
The first goal came early but not before time. Barely 14 minutes had passed when Luis Suárez scored and, nevertheless, it did not seem that he was setting the tone, but confirmed it, Atlético imposed its authority from the beginning, the ball moved with precision and a certain tranquility as well. Mario Hermoso played from deep, Kieran Trippier was always open, Koke offered continuity and Suarez’s touches were invariably as neat as they were smart, while Marcos Llorente ran everywhere.
One of those runs led to the goal, Llorente jumped over Nacho and broke into the area on the right, before slipping a pass to Suárez. He was approached by Courtois, a formidable obstacle that the Uruguayan overcame as he bolted a deft shot at the far angle with the outside of his foot.
Atlético had the lead and control, the Real route was repetitive and until now unsuccessful, through the air to Benzema. Three times he jumped; with none of them he was able to establish a sufficiently clean contact. But Atlético’s feeling of superiority was not reflected on the scoreboard and Real was denied the way back just before the break when, after a long VAR control by the referee, Alejandro Hernández Hernández, he judged that Felipe had not made the hand within your area.
Atlético should have increased their lead early in the second half, Courtois fulfilling the familiar role of rescuing Real, denying Suarez twice before Ángel Correa horribly scraped a half volley from just six yards. Atlético threatened often, but their lead was held by just one goal. As time passed that seemed like something to protect and maintain as well as expand, Atlético deepened as Real reached the tie.
That was an invitation to attack, although genuine chances were few until the final minutes. As Courtois had previously denied Suarez, Oblak now denied Benzema. Vinícius made a perfect shot on Benzema’s path in front of the penalty spot, but the Slovenian superbly stopped his first shot, jumped up and stopped the second shot as well. He saved a third a couple of minutes later, this time from a free kick. But he couldn’t save the fourth, and the way it played out was the story of this half and, who knows, maybe this season.
Nearby now, also worried, Atlético is deepening more and more, the reinforcements sent to resist, a policy that may have rebounded them. At one extreme, Saúl and Suárez were unable to take advantage of a break, a last missed opportunity. In the other, almost immediately, Benzema ran towards them, past substitute Geoffrey Kondogbia, played a clever one-two with Casemiro and rolled the ball to leave the title race as wide as the net.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism