Real Madrid took a giant step toward the Copa del Rey final after a 3-0 victory over neighbors Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their semifinal at the Bernabeu. It was a measure of revenge for Madrid’s defeat to their local rivals on the same ground in the final of the same competition last season. They will now surely be back vying for the trophy in April.
The home side were the better team throughout a scrappy, hot-tempered derby, albeit they had plenty of fortune going their way in establishing a lead that presents a monumental task for Atletico to overcome next week. There were two own goals, first from Emiliano Insua and then from Miranda, to deflect wayward efforts from Pepe and Angel di Maria past Thibaut Courtois in either half. In between came a goal of real quality when Di Maria set up Jese.
Diego Simeone will certainly feel aggrieved at the scale of the defeat, with, in truth Madrid creating few clear chances. But the Argentine can have no complaints that his team were soundly second best. Atletico may be three points clear of Madrid at the top of La Liga, but it was Los Merengues who had an element of control throughout. In contrast to their defeat to the same opponents earlier in the season, Madrid looked far more balanced, helped by the recent switch to a 4-3-3 formation. Luka Modric was at the center of everything, both exceptional in his use of the ball and showing a desire to win it back. The Croatian played his part in ensuring that a perhaps understandably lackluster-looking Atletico caused little trouble on the break.
Despite a positive start for the home side, it was Atletico who had the first chance. Arda Turan stooped to head Gabi’s cross on goal but couldn’t get enough power or direction on it and Iker Casillas made a smart stop.
It was Madrid, though, that broke the deadlock. Pepe bounded forward onto a Di Maria pass and, having not been closed down, decided to launch a shot from 25 yards. The effort was heading comfortably wide but got a pivotal deflection off the side of the turning Insua and left Courtois, not for the last time, stranded diving the other way.
The goal was in many ways in-keeping with the play in the opening half. Both sides were showing a lack of sharpness in the final third, while an incessant array of fouls, play-acting and bickering meant there was little opportunity for the fine football that the two sides are fully capable of producing. Tensions were raised further when Miranda was lucky to escape conceding a penalty for clumsily bundling into the back of Alvaro Arbeloa’s legs in the box.
Signs of Courtois’ shakiness were seen when he unconvincingly batted away a strike from the lively Jese and then saw the ball immediately come straight back at him courtesy of Modric.
Still, Madrid will certainly have been the happier side at the interval, having controlled the ball in the opening half and easily having seen off Atletico’s renowned counter-attacking danger. In the absence of the injured David Villa, the visitors were getting little joy from their three men behind Diego Costa, with Diego particularly quiet on his first start since his loan move from Wolfsburg. Having also been booked for a trip on Cristiano Ronaldo, there was little surprise that the Brazilian was withdrawn by Simeone at half-time, with Cristian Rodriguez entering the fray.
Atletico put some early pressure on their opponents in the second half from set-pieces, but it was Madrid who soon doubled their lead with the match’s outstanding moment of quality.
Cutting in from the left, Di Maria cleverly bided his time, waiting for the run across the box from Jese, who escaped the attentions of Miranda, and met the perfect no-look through ball by the Argentine with a flick with the outside of his right foot that went under the dive of Courtois.
The Belgian stopper will have been disappointed with his effort to keep out that shot and was still looking unsettled when fumbling a long-range effort from Di Maria moments later. Pepe might have caused Courtois further concern, but volleyed wide from a corner.
It was from a corner that Atletico soon created their one real chance to get back into the game. Diego Godin rose well at the back post and put in a textbook header down and back across goal but was denied by Modric, who completed his outstanding night with a superb clearance off the line.
And soon the match and surely the tie was put beyond reasonable doubt. It was sloppy defensively from Atletico to allow the ball to fall for Di Maria to strike from 25 yards and although, like Pepe’s, it was heading a long way wide, Miranda this time was the man to unwittingly deflect it past the wrong-footed Courtois.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.