After Real Madrid and Atletico's Derby Draw, We Know as Little as When We Began

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2015

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04: Antoine Griezmann (2ndL) of Atletico de Madrid reacts as he fail to score surrounded by Gabi Fernandez (L) of Real Madrid CF and his teammate Raphael Varane (R) during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

It was the tussle that would send La Liga into the international break with a bang. Or so we thought. 

In the build-up, the tension had been palpable, a verbal barb or two thrown. "We know it's Atleti's game of the year," Alvaro Arbeloa had said more than a little patronisingly. "You can tell he hasn't seen us play much," chirped Gabi in response.

In just two seasons, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had met a colossal 13 times. Last season alone, the number was eight. "For two teams that didn't at all like each other beforehand," we said in our preview, "it's become the equivalent of handing each a sponge and asking them to share a daylong bath."

Inside the Vicente Calderon on Sunday was the usually impressive scene for occasions of this sort: a sea of red, white and blue; a raucous home crowd; and a pristine stage set for it. The subplots were intriguing, too. 

Cristiano Ronaldo was one goal away from breaking Raul's record. Fernando Torres was one goal away from 100 strikes for Atleti. Rafa Benitez and Diego Simeone were meeting for the first time in what AS dubbed the "clash of the whiteboards," Benitez with an early chance to do something Carlo Ancelotti never did: defeat Atletico in the league.

As ever, this was a battle for bragging rights and supremacy in the capital, but it also had the potential to be season-altering. Real Madrid could go top; Atleti could go close. Real could break the hex; Atleti could maintain it. Perhaps more importantly, though, both could capitalise on Barcelona's loss at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan a day earlier.

The stage, then, was set for it—"it" in this case meaning a grand duel. A proper heavyweight showdown. A clash befitting the occasion. 

But that's not exactly what we got. 

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04:  head coach Diego Pablo Simeone (R) of Atletico de Madrid welcomes head coach Rafael Benitez (L) of Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on Octob
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

After 82 minutes of the biggest game of the season to date, there had been 26 fouls, seven yellow cards, four attacking substitutions but just two shots on target. Two. And one of those had been Antoine Griezmann's penalty kick that was saved by Keylor Navas after 22 minutes. The other one: Karim Benzema's goal after nine.

For an entire hour, between the 22nd and 82nd minute, two of Europe's powerhouses didn't muster a single shot on target between them. And it's not as though there was a shortage of players capable of doing so. 

Atletico started the game with Griezmann, Torres and Angel Correa in attack before finishing it with Griezmann, Jackson Martinez, Luciano Vietto and Yannick Carrasco. For Real, well, they're hardly short of firepower now, aren't they?

Certainly, the visitors made a bright start and deserved their early lead, but they did little more than gently poke and prod thereafter. On the other side, the hosts, after a couple of half-chances, almost stopped attacking altogether until Martinez broke free to set up Vietto for a messy equaliser late on. 

Real, you sensed, wanted to lure Atleti out. Conversely, Atleti wanted to lure Real too far forward. Neither happened. Atleti didn't break ranks, and Real didn't bomb on. It was the ultimate recipe for neutralisation, no matter what they tell you in chemistry. 

What this was, in effect, was two teams who sought to out-fox each other essentially out-foxing themselves.

"This isn't great, is it?" said the Guardian's Sid Lowe midway through, summing the whole thing up in five words. Marca might have needed a few more, but the message was the same: "Sunday's derby was far from one to remember. The players should move on quickly and leave behind the embarrassment of a stodgy performance."

Stern words, huh?

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04:  Alvaro Arbeloa of Real Madrid fouls Yannick Carrasco of Club Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In short, the event of the weekend wound up with a "non" in front of it by the end. And that only complicates matters further: Where do we stand after Sunday? What do we make of these teams? Can we really get a handle on where they're at?

Atletico came into this game on the back of consecutive losses and an overall start to the season that's felt rather sluggish, which in itself has been surprising. 

All summer, the talk that emanated from the Vicente Calderon had centred on Simeone's desire to oversee an evolution in playing style. Atleti, they said, would be sharper, bolder and more dynamic. Simeone described it as "an internal movement" in which the team would take "a step forward."

Reinforcing that idea were the arrivals of Martinez, Vietto and Carrasco, as well as the emergence of Correa and Oliver Torres. 

Yet, prior to Sunday, after six league games, Atletico had nine goals. At the same stage last season, they had 11. The season before they had 18. The one before that it was 16.

On Sunday, they could only add one more to their nine. 

Believe it or not, given the attacking talent at their disposal, this is Atleti's slowest start to a season in front of goal in Simeone's tenure. But then, complicating judgements are mitigating circumstances. 

Transitional periods always require time, and Atletico's fixture list to date hasn't been easy. Prior to the derby, the men from the Calderon had already hosted Barcelona and been away to Sevilla and Villarreal, and now they've added Real Madrid to the list. It's been a somewhat underwhelming start, yes, but Atleti have already faced four of the league's top six from last season. 

To be within touching distance of the top of the table, you could say they've done well. But the absence of a compelling performance to date also creates doubt. 

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04:  Cristiano Ronaldo (L) of Real Madrid CF shakes hands with Filipe Luis (L) of Atletico de Madrid as he leaves the pitch  after the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

For Real Madrid, meanwhile, the problem had been much the same when trying to assess them, even if the circumstances differed. 

Entering this clash, Benitez's side were undefeated, and in all competitions, they had collected six wins and two draws while scoring 20 goals and conceding only one. Statistically, it was impressive, but then the opponents faced hadn't exactly read like the who's who of Europe: Sporting Gijon, Real Betis, Espanyol, Shakhtar Donetsk, Granada, Athletic Bilbao, Malaga and Malmo. 

Additionally, the goal tallies felt a little misleading. Though Betis and Espanyol had been vanquished, the attacking efforts at home against Granada and Malaga won't be included in YouTube compilations anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the impressive defensive record had hidden the fact that Navas had made some key saves, opponents had missed some glorious chances and Real had been fortunate when Granada were wrongly disallowed a goal at the Bernabeu.  

For both teams, therefore, Sunday was meant to serve as a measuring stick. It was an opportunity to set down a marker, a 90-minute display that would give us a clearer picture of where they're at and who they are. 

Instead, after a perplexing Madrid derby in which little actually happened, there are more questions than answers. After it, we were supposed to know more, but we actually know just as little as when we began. 

"My feeling is that it's two points dropped," said Benitez in his post-match press conference. In his, Simeone said exactly the same.  

At least they can agree on something, because the rest of us don't know where to start. 

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