Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid: 5 Things We Learned from Crucial Derby Win
In front of a hostile crowd at the Vicente Calderón, Los Blancos grabbed the full three points, restoring their four-point lead over reigning champions Barcelona.
Although heavily criticized for disappearing in big matches, Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo put on a world-class display in what was a crucial game for the La Liga leaders. The Madrid No. 7 scored an emphatic hat-track and provided the assist for the fourth goal as well.
Ronaldo will be making all the headlines, and rightfully so, but it was a solid team effort from Real Madrid in the derby.
I was at the Vicente Calderón for the Madrid derby, and here are five things we learned from Real Madrid's impressive victory.
Karim Benzema Needs a Rest Before the Matches Against Bayern and Barca
Karim Benzema has been one of Real Madrid's shining stars this season. Rarely has the French striker disappointed in terms of creating goals and his overall team play.
Although he is enjoying a fantastic season with Los Blancos, Benzema was underwhelming in the Madrid derby. The Frenchman struggled to combine with teammates in the final third, unable to create space and time on the ball with his usually clever movement and one-touch football.
The Madrid No. 9 had a great goalscoring opportunity in the first half when Ángel di María cut inside on his left and swung in a beautiful cross from the right. Although Benzema did well to drop off from his marker and find space, he failed to bury the free header.
Benzema has been an ever-present in Mourinho's starting XI since returning from injury last month. However, the striker will need some rest against Sporting Gijon this weekend, as Mourinho and Los Blancos prepare for the two-legged Champions League Semifinal against Bayern and El Clásico.
Kaká Had His Big Chance... but Failed to Deliver
With Kaká in the starting XI for the Madrid derby and Özil on the bench, Mourinho gave the Brazilian his big chance to show why he should be Los Blancos' central attacking playmaker heading into the matches against Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
The former Ballon d'Or winner has been in exceptional form as of late, showing the goalscoring and creative ability of a true world-class player.
Although the Brazilian has been playing his best football in a Madrid shirt, he struggled to make an impact in the derby. Kaká has received praise from the coaching staff for his energy and closing down in midfield, but that part of his game was invisible during the beginning of the first half.
Madrid were struggling to control the midfield, and Kaká was slow to drop back to help out Alonso and Khedira. Although he started to get on the ball more towards the end of the first half, his overall performance was rather underwhelming and disappointing.
For a player that has been asserting himself on both sides of the ball, Kaká looked slightly off the pace and seemed unable to get a foothold in the match.
Mourinho was forced to make a change at halftime, bringing on Özil to replace the Brazilian playmaker. Although the German was not exceptional in possession, he checked back to receive the ball and helped Madrid gain more control of the midfield.
With the matches against Munich and Barca around the corner, Kaká will be frustrated with his performance in such an important match. Had he delivered in the derby, there would have been a strong possibility of him starting against Bayern on Tuesday.
However, Los Blancos looked more composed and dangerous with Özil on the pitch, and Mourinho will most likely opt for the German playmaker in the most important matches of the season.
Top Summer Priority: Sign a World-Class Right-Back
Álvaro Arbeloa was one of Real Madrid’s most consistent defenders last season. However, in recent weeks, the former Liverpool right-back has been struggling to find his best form.
In the Madrid derby, it was clear that Atletico manager Cholo Simeone singled out Arbeloa as the weak link in Los Blancos’ defense. Brazilian left-back Filipe was a constant threat down the left, along with Arda Turan and Adrian when they took up dangerous positions out wide.
Arbeloa clearly lacked the pace to keep up with Filipe and Atletico’s attackers, as the home side consistently manufactured attacks down that flank. Di María was surprisingly slow in tracking back early in the match, which piled more pressure on the Spanish right-back.
During the latter stages of the first half and most of the second when Madrid’s attackers were more responsible tracking back, Arbeloa struggled to contain Atletico’s quick counters. German midfielder Sami Khedira spent the majority of the match covering for Arbeloa.
The defensive midfielder did well to pinch over and provide defensive cover when the Spanish right-back lost possession or was beat for pace.
After such a disappointing performance, it is becoming clear that Real Madrid’s top priority in the summer will be to sign a world-class right-back. Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović is the most recent right-back linked with a move to the Spanish capital. The Serbian would provide more grit, energy and aerial ability than Arbeloa or the likes of makeshift right-backs Lassana Diarra and Hamit Altintop.
Other players high on Mourinho’s list are Tottenham’s Kyle Walker, Ajax’s Gregory van der Wiel and Bayern Munich’s Rafinha.
Fábio Coentrão Could Be Real Madrid's Starting Left-Back over Next Two Weeks
With Marcelo unavailable through a back injury, Fábio Coentrão slotted alongside Sergio Ramos as the starting left-back. The former Benfica star gave a five-star performance in what was his best match for Los Blancos.
Coentrão showed all the qualities of a world-class defender. He was exceptional at the back, making key tackles and blocks all over the pitch.
At times, the Portuguese international looked like a one-man defensive unit. Coentrão's pace, tenacity, and determination was unmatched on Wednesday night.
The left-back could be slightly at fault for Falcao's header, but the Colombian hitman did well to find space in between Coentrão and Ramos for the tying goal.
Although Ronaldo will rightfully grab all the headlines, Coentrão gave a man-of-the-match worthy display at left-back. With Madrid's tough matches against Bayern Munich and Barcelona coming up over the next two weeks, Mourinho could opt for the more defensive Coentrão over the skill and attacking prowess of Marcelo.
With Bayern's Arjen Robben raiding down the wing, it is likely that Mourinho will call on Coentrão for the first-leg in Munich. Depending on the outcome and the progress of Marcelo's back injury, the Portuguese tactician could opt for the former Benfica star as well.
Barcelona will pose similar problems with their relentless attacking and possession play. After this masterclass from Coentrão, Mourinho has to make a number of tough tactical decisions in the coming weeks.
Real Madrid's Free-Kick Specialist Is Back to His Best
Cristiano Ronaldo's free-kick against Atletico was absolutely sensational. GolTV's Ray Hudson described it best during Wednesday night's commentary, "Are you kidding me? Astonishing! This is not just a dream, it's a wet dream of orgasmic proportions."
After enduring a horrific stretch of poor free-kicks, Real Madrid's dead-ball specialist is back to his best.
It's amazing what confidence will do to a player. Ronaldo's free-kick renaissance started with a deflected goal against Osasuna. The Portuguese superstar seemed to build off that fortunate strike, as he struck a beautiful free-kick against APOEL in the following match as well.
Following a barren run in which Xabi Alonso and Mesut Özil started to assume partial free-kick taking responsibilities, Ronaldo has scored three goals from dead-ball situations in the past four matches.
With arguably the three most important games of the season coming up in the next two weeks, Ronaldo has found his free-kick rhythm at the perfect time.