What is all the fuss about in Madrid? Once again Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid started the Champions League group stage slowly and eventually came through, with Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid taking their place in the knockout stage, with both Spanish capital powers avoiding a humiliating fate.
Real Madrid, who entered on Wednesday, with the ability to finish anywhere from first to last in their group, above all, beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0, Atletico took its place behind Bayern Munich 2-0 in Salzburg.
A slow start may be a habit, but it’s as close as Real Madrid have failed to progress beyond the group stage since 1997. It has only played better on the reefs, and at times bad football has taken place: the first half was against Shakhtar Donets at home, the second half against Shakhtar, a large part of the middle of the home game was between Inter and most of the match in Borussia Monchengladbach. That last game, in fact, saw Madrid re-enter the group — where Gladbach snatched its chance – stealing a draw after falling 2-0 87 minutes later.
Without even being in the Europa League knockout rounds, Arturo Vidal was sent off for pushing referee Anthony Taylor when Inter, who ended up at the bottom of the group, committed suicide in the game against Madrid in San Siro. A fantastic performance there, who knows what might have been?
Cladbach was more in Madrid because it was so enjoyable for most of the group. It lacked the zip and bite, signaling its superiority, obviously breaking the attacking line and not putting as much pressure as usual, struggling to get the ball out of its own half for the long haul of the first half. Both goals came just before half-time, and both came from identical sources, with Karim Benzema not marked to go on the cross from the right, the first from Lucas Vazquez, and the second from Rodrigo.
In any case there is no pressure on the ball, or a real sense of defensive urgency. It would have been different if Allsen Play had not widened each other on goal 1-0. The 27-year-old forward is better this season, but will remember the 1-V-1 he missed with a 2-0 win over Gladbach in the first game against Madrid.
In the end, it was a resounding success. Benzema struck woodwork and Jan Somer made excellent savings. It was 2-0 in five or six games. But this is not the only disappointment in Gladbach. It was also about Madrid clicking back into gear. Sergio Ramos was back at the defense, while Zidane went back to the familiar midfield three Casimiro, Luca Modric and Tony Cruz. At some point it is going to stop being the answer, but not yet.
As the other game in the group ended goalless between Inter and Shakhtar, Gladbach progressed further, with Gladbach’s players eagerly watching on a smartphone on the pitch in Madrid. If there had been a winner in that game, it would have gone at the expense of Gladbach.
Inter kept their hopes alive by beating Gladbach 3-2 last week, and that was the highlight of the game. But often too late, it simply could not score. La Toro Martinez attacked the bar, Romelu Lukaku 19-year-old Anatoly Troop brilliantly had a header, he made other saves, and Alexis Sanchez had a header cannon heading towards the goal late for Lukaku’s defense.
No matter how unfortunate it was, it was the third time in five attempts that an Antonio Conte side had been eliminated. Looking at how many times he has been lucky against Inter this season, how it has beaten and failed to score in both games against Shakhtar, it seems ridiculous to find more mistakes with Conte this time around, but it is a worrying pattern.
Meanwhile, Atletico had to avoid defeat in Salzburg until the last 16, but the current leader of La Liga has achieved more than that. Despite Salzburg’s initiative, Atletico took the lead seven minutes before half-time, with Mario Hermoso looking for a Yannick Karasco free kick, the club’s first goal.
It was a regular Atletico performance, soaking up the pressure before Carrasco sealed the victory.
Inter out, Shakhtar and Gladbach in the Europa League and both Madrid teams until the knockout rounds. Perhaps the team tables at the end weren’t much of a surprise, but at least some of the giants have been made to work for their improvement this season.