Raúl Garcia
Raúl Garcia runs to celebrate his goal for Atlético Madrid against Real Madrid with Fernando Torres. Reuters

Atlético Madrid continued their fine record against their local rivals this season by beating Real Madrid 2-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie at the Vicente Calderón. In a match that saw Fernando Torres make his first appearances since returning to his former club, Atlético went ahead thanks to Raúl García’s penalty just before the hour mark after the Atlético midfielder was adjudged to have been hauled down by Sergio Ramos. In a game short on chances at either end, the hosts then doubled their lead when defender José Giménez headed in Gabi’s corner with 14 minutes remaining.

The result puts Atlético in prime position for the second leg at the Bernabeu in a week’s time and means they have now won two and drawn two of the four matches they have played against Madrid since the heartbreak of their Champions League final defeat last May. And this result against the Primera Division leaders was achieved despite Diego Simeone, with Sunday’s La Liga clash with Barcelona surely in mind, making seven changes to his lineup from the team that beat Levante 3-1 at the weekend.

Real Madrid made four changes to their team, including starting with Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, but for manager Carlo Ancelotti it is now two defeats on the bounce following their Spanish record streak of 22 straight wins. It is, of course, far too early to panic, but they will need to quickly get back on track with a match against Espanyol upcoming on Saturday before they’ll look to continue their defense of the Copa del Rey by overturning their deficit back on home soil.

Without Ronaldo, the onus was on the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale, to make the difference and make amends for a missed chance late on in Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Valencia. Instead the Welshman was wholly ineffective throughout. Missing their talisman and up against what was, despite the rotation, a typically resolute Atleti rearguard, Real Madrid’s only clear opening created form open play was volleyed wide by Bale early in the second half.

They had a clear chance to go in front, too, in the opening minute. Ramos, just as he had done to deny Atlético right at the death of regulation time in the Champions League final, rose brilliantly in the penalty area from a corner, but this time Atlético’s second-string goalkeeper Jan Oblak made a fine save.

At that point the atmosphere inside the Vicente Calderón was still thunderous, with Atlético’s fans extra enthused by the return of their former idol and captain Torres. But once the whistle went, the romantic memories of his first spell and the fairytale hopes that he could reproduce that thrilling ability slipped away as the reality of Torres’ steep decline over the last five years took hold. Caught offside three times and often losing the ball running into defenders with the few touches he did have, this was very much the Torres that failed so spectacularly to live up to his mammoth fee at Chelsea and did precious little at Milan this season.

Still, despite having little of the ball, it was Atlético’s more direct approach that yielded the greater offensive threat. After a Bale header was rightly ruled out for offside, Atlético stormed down the pitch and the lively Antoine Griezmann forced a smart save from Keylor Navas. Meanwhile, García was gifted a chance by a poor Ramos headed clearance, but Marcelo did well to block the resulting shot.

Another Ramos error was punished 11 minutes into the second half. The Madrid defender can have some cause for complaint, with García having had a hold of his shirt as the ball came toward them with their back to goal in the box, but Ramos was still foolish in the extreme to throw his opponent to the ground in clear view of the referee. García picked himself up and just beat Navas with his effort from 12 yards.

Torres soon departed as Atlético shored up their midfield, while Ronaldo came onto try and provide a much-needed spark for the visitors. But Madrid remained frustrated, as illustrated by Alvaro Arbeloa aiming his studs into Gabi late on and being lucky to escape an early walk back down the tunnel. By that point, Madrid’s night had been made worse and their task in the second leg significantly more difficult when Giménez rose with authority and power beyond his 19 years to head superbly past Navas.

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