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La Liga Race Tightens After Madrid Derby Draw

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La Liga Madrid Derby

After an unexpected defeat at hands of Osasuna, Atletico Madrid had seen the derby against Real Madrid as a perfect opportunity to get to close the gap with their crosstown rivals.

The 2-2’s draw means that Real conserve a three point gap over Atletico, but Barcelona, who defeated Almeria 4-1, reduced the break to just one point. Ancelottii’s squad boasts now an enviable record of 16 games without losing in the Spanish league, that becomes 29 if we include all the competitions.

Without any doubts, they are capable to win a lot in Spain and in Europe, however, the recent exploit of Atletico and the fact that Barcelona is still a powerhouse suggest that the last months of the Spanish tournament will be a treat to watch.

Madrid’s derby

After a 6-1 win at Gelsenkirchen in the Champions League against Schalke 04– where they seemed unstoppable – Real Madrid started the derby scoring after just two minutes with a header from Karim Benzema. The early goal may have killed the hopes of many squads, but Atletico Madrid weren’t too keen to be thrashed in front of their home crowd. The squad’s spirit is well embodied in its coach, Diego Simeone, who stood up in his area almost as he was playing on the wing. Even on the pitch, the rivalry and competitiveness were at highest level with skirmishes between players every corner or debatable situation.

Trailing 1-0, the Colchoneros started pressing high on the field and Real Madrid weren’t able to play the ball from the back,  leaving the attacking trio – recently nick-named  BBC (Benzema, Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo) – disconnected from the rest of the team. Raul Garcia was preferred to David Villa and Diego for supporting Diego Costa, but his job consisted more to close down Xabi Alonso rather than sprinting forward, even if he made same good incursions in the box.

Atletico’s midfield worked effectively and they levelled when the tricky Turkish Arda Turan brought around Fabio Coentrao who left a glaring hole on the left of Real’s defense where Koke found himself free to beat Diego Lopez. The goal gave Atletico plenty of confidence and few seconds before the half-time, Gabi scored with a wonderful 30-metre shot that surprised Real’s goalkeeper.

The second half was pretty similar to the end of the first part but Atletico’s midfielders started to pay for their efforts, slowly conceded metres to Xabi Alonso and company: their full backs were pinned back with only Diego Costa willing to create problem in attack and throw the gauntlet of defenders.

Carlo Ancelotti understood the situation and changed both full-backs, Coentrao and Dani Arbeloa, with Carvajal and Marcelo, far more attacking minded than the starting teammates. Real Madrid enjoyed consequently more possession and attacked more consistently down the wings. The goal came from an incursion from Carvajal on the right – though Gabi was guilty of misplacing a pass – whose cross found Cristiano Ronaldo in the middle of the box, ready to fire home.

The draw may sound unfair to Atletico, who wasted a big chance to regain the lead at the top of the table, while even Real Madrid could have regrets as a win would have effectively cancelled Atletico from the title’s race. Looking at the half-full glass,  it was still a derby, and not losing it always means that your crosstown rivals haven’t won…

Barça and the right turn-over

Tata Martino and Barcelona seemed to have learnt last week’s lesson at Anoeta when the team was overturned by Real Sociedad after a massive turn-over  – logical on the paper but wrong in practice.

Against Almeria, the Argentinean coach restored all his mainstays – a part from Andres Iniesta and Pedro left on the bench and Gerard Piqué sidelined by a thigh problem – and above all else, the engine room was set up properly with Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets in the middle of the park behind the attacking trio, formed this time by Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and Neymar.

It took only eight minutes to Barça to score with Alexis while Messi doubled the lead in the twenty-fourth minutes with a brilliant free-kick. But another mistake from corner – the eighth so far this season – allowed the visitors to reduce the gap leaving Blaugrana with a slight sense of angst.

Almeria’s goalscoring chances during the second half were extremely limited, but keeping the game 2-1 meant that Barça couldn’t relax themselves. It’s true that the Catalans were in control, although they failed to kill the match. Neymar wasted a couple of good chances – showing all his regression,  in comparison with his quite good performances in the first part of the season – and even the three substitutions were made with incomprehensible delay, especially when Barça needed fresh legs.

Eventually captain Carles Puyol scored at eight-third minute to make it 3-1, with Xavi who sealed the game in the injury time . However, if the victory may have never been in doubt, the way of winning has been not as great as the result could suggest.