Cristiano Ronaldo ensured Real Madrid remain top of La Liga with a late equalizer in a ferociously contested derby with Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon.
The visitors, who came into the match with a three point advantage, got off to the fast start through Karim Benzema’s early goal. But Atletico came storming back and by half-time were deservedly in front with Koke and then a stunning long-range effort from Gabi finding the target. They were eight minutes away from getting a victory to move them back to the top when Madrid, who came on strongly late on, hauled secured a share of the points through Ronaldo’s clinical finish.
On the balance of play, it was arguably a just scoreline, but it came after a host of controversial decisions. In what now holds a strong claim to be the most intense derby in Europe, the match more than lived up to its billing with tempers heated on the pitch, in the stands as well as on the sidelines.
For Atletico it was a return to form after fatigue had understandably had appeared to set in in recent weeks. Diego Simeone’s side looked to have benefited from having their first midweek off in 2014 coming into the match. Madrid did not have that luxury, having beaten Schalke 6-1 in Germany. And Carlo Ancelotti will surely be contented at taking away a point that will keep his side ahead of the chasing pack, no matter what Barcelona do later in the day. In match that could have gone either way, his side have maintained their incredible momentum and will take some stopping this season.
Madrid had Atletico pinned back in the opening exchanges and in the third minute had the lead. From a short corner, Atletico, and Filipe Luis in particular, got their offside trap wrong, allowing Benzema to stab home Di Maria’s fine in-swinging cross from inside the six-yard box.
Atletico’s protests at the officials’ decision was misplaced on that occasion, but they were very much just in their furious reaction minutes later. Costa was clearly brought down by Ramos sticking a leg across his path, but despite the immediate and obvious sign of panic on Ramos’ face, no penalty was awarded.
That decision helped the always simmering atmosphere both on and off the pitch to begin to boil over. And in many ways, the scrappy nature of the fixture played into the home side’s favor. Under Simeone, Atletico are a team that plays with an intensity and positive aggression perhaps unmatched across Europe.
But they are far more than just that. And they showed that they can play a fair bit, too, when deservedly getting back on level terms in the 28th minute. From a throw in on the right, Arda Turan drifted across the edge of the area, dragging players with him before turning back and picking out Koke in the space vacated by Fabio Coentrao tracking him across. The Madrid-born midfielder capitalized with a superb low strike through the legs of Ramos and past the dive of Diego Lopez.
Despite not getting on the score-sheet, Costa as he had been in the first leg of Madrid’s Copa del Rey victory last month, was again a central figure. Both with his aggression and ability he was giving the Madrid defense plenty to handle. The Brazilian-born forward, who is set to make his debut for Spain next month, turned expertly to squeeze through both of Madrid’s center-backs but Lopez closed down his shot from the angle.
Before half-time Atletico would be ahead, through a stunning bolt from the blue. A free-kick was rolled to Gabi more than 35 yards out and the midfield unleashed a strike of ferocious power that soared into the net. Still, despite the shot’s movement and velocity, it was fairly central in the goal and Lopez might well be disappointed that he was not able to get hands to it.
The engaging nature of the contest continued after the break. Costa shot wide as he was unable to escape the attentions of Pepe going through on goal, while at the other end Benzema volleyed wide.
There was unsurprisingly more controversy too. Madrid were denied a penalty when Ronaldo’s free-kick struck the raised arm of Gabi, as he tried to protect his face. Meanwhile, Costa was to the fore once more when he went down just inside the area with Alvaro Arbeloa appearing to make contact as he fell. Instead the referee produced a yellow card for a dive. That incensed not only Costa, but Atletico assistant coach German Burgos who had to be held back from the face of the official.
The chances kept coming in what was a breathless encounter. Costa missed his kick from a pull back and then Lopez kept out a header from Turan before Ronaldo headed wide from eight yards out.
The game began to move in the visitors’ favor as the half wore on. Ancelotti’s three substitutions worked to help Madrid gain the ascendency as Atletico’s legs began to tire. And it was one of the men brought on, Daniel Carvajal, who helped provided his side’s leveler. It came with a heavy helping hand from Atletico, though, as Mario Suarez gifted the ball to Carvajal down the right to allow the attacking full-back to get to the byline. His cutback failed to be taken under control from Bale, but Ronaldo needed no second invitation and blasted the ball low past Courtois.
Carvajal almost undid his good work with a suicidal ball across his own box that Raul Garcia reached in front of Lopez, but was unable to take advantage of the gift to leave the spoils shared.