A much-changed Real Madrid side came from behind to beat their city rivals Atletico Madrid 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon and strengthen their grip on second place in La Liga.
It looked like being a perfect opportunity for Atletico to get a first win over their more illustrious neighbors this century that would put them level on points in second spot. But, against a Madrid side missing Cristiano Ronaldo and a host of first-team players as Jose Mourinho looked to keep players fresh for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal, Atletico failed to take advantage despite going in front inside five minutes courtesy of Radamel Falcao.
Juanfran diverted the ball into his own net less than 10 minutes later from Angel di Maria’s free-kick and the Argentinean got the winner just past the hour mark.
The result takes Madrid to within 11 points of Barcelona atop La Liga, but more importantly gives them a commanding six-point advantage over Atletico with five matches of the season remaining. Mourinho will also hope that the victory will provide a confidence boost as Madrid look to overturn a 4-1 deficit to Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.
Atletico will now have to try and snap their barren streak in the Madrid derby when the two sides meet in the final of the Cop del Rey next month. Yet it had all started so positively for Diego Simeone’s men on Saturday.
In just the fourth minute, Gabi’s free-kick from distance was spilled by Diego Lopez allowing Diego Godin to retrieve and chip a good cross to the back post where Falcao was on hand to head in from close range for his 26th league goal of the season.
But it was another free-kick that led to Madrid’s equalizer in the 13th minute. Di Maria’s bouncing ins-winging set piece should have posed little threat but it deflected off Juanfran and deceived Thibaut Courtois to squirm inside the post.
The match was far from flee-flowing as a succession of fouls disrupted the rhythm, while Atletico had several optimistic penalty appeals turned down but had more reason to complain about more than one botched offside call.
Toward the end of the first half, Courtois had to come off his line smartly to block a low effort from Karim Benzema. The other side of the break Diego Costa’s header rattled Lopez’s crossbar.
Atletico were having plenty of the play, but failed to display the required quality in the final third. And in the 63rd minute they were made to pay.
Madrid had threatened little in the second half, yet it was they that grabbed the winner when Benzema fed Di Maria through and the man who recently became a father fired a low shot across Courtois and into the corner of the net.