There was plenty of intensity and tension, but no goals from the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. The tie now travels back to the Bernabeu next Wednesday still finely balanced, with Real Madrid having home advantage but Atlético knowing that an away goal leaves their opponents needing to score twice.
And it is now seven matches this season in which Real Madrid have failed to get the better of their cross-town rivals, who have historically lived in their considerable shadow. For much of the first 45 minutes at a packed Calderon that record looked in serious jeopardy. Two months on from their chastening 4-0 reversal on the same pitch, Real were a much different proposition and they played with an intensity and fluidity that left Atlético firmly on the back foot. Indeed, it was only a sensational display from goalkeeper Jan Oblak, particularly to deny Gareth Bale, that allowed Diego Simeone’s side to go into the interval still all square.
Perhaps expectedly, the visitors were unable to maintain that ferocious tempo in the second half. Increasingly the match, between two teams with no love lost for each other, became a bruising encounter. A clearly riled Mario Mandzukic was at the heart of many of the controversial moments, suffering a bloodied nose from a Sergio Ramos elbow and then being the recipient of a punch to the midriff from Dani Carvajal.
Remarkably all 22 players remained on the pitch until the conclusion of a contest that culminated with Atlético pushing for a precious first-leg advantage. But just as Atlético were able to hold on in the opening half, Real survived some nervy moments toward the end of the second. Still, it means that if Real Madrid are to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles, they will have to do something they’ve failed to accomplish since winning an unprecedented 10th European Cup in Lisbon last May: beat Atlético.
It could have been very different had Bale taken a glorious chance that came his way in only the fourth minute. Diego Godin produced an unfamiliar error, but one which demonstrated how unsettled Atletico were by Real Madrid’s fast start, to allow Bale a clear run on goal. But Oblak came out well and stretched out an arm to block from the world’s most expensive player. Oblak, only recently promoted to the role of first-choice after an injury to Miguel Ángel Moyà, continued to keep Atletico afloat. While not as spectacular as his first save, he was faultless in repelling a long-range drive from Bale as well as two threatening efforts from James Rodriguez.
The fit again Rodriguez had missed the 4-0 loss in February, as had his midfield colleague Luka Modric. But, along with Toni Kroos, Real’s central trio was dominant in the opening 45 minutes. It wasn’t until the half-time break that Atletico got a breather and Real’s intensity tailed off.
And four minutes into the second half the hosts created their first clear chance of the contest. Given a rare opportunity to advance, Juanfran crossed for Arda Turan, but the Turkish midfielder mistimed his header to direct it wide of the near post. For the most part, Real Madrid were able to avert serious peril from the aerial threat of Atletico, which has proved their undoing so often in recent times. But there were couple of notable uncomfortable moments in the dying minutes, with Iker Casillas failing to grasp a cross and Raul Garcia just failing to bundle in from close range. For Atletico, the scoreline is unlikely to hold any fear, having scored on all three visits to the Bernabeu this season and having reached last year’s Champions League final after a goalless first leg at home against Chelsea.