No inch given as Madrid derby ends all square at Vicente Calderon
Real Madrid go into the second leg with the slight advantage
Cristiano Ronaldo vies with Atletico Madrid’s midfielders Mario Suarez and Koke during the Champions League quarter final first leg draw. Photo: Javier Soriano/Getty Images
Real Madrid’s search for La Undécima remains intact after a taut, niggly, claustrophobic goalless draw at the Vicente Calderón Stadium against a familiarly gristly Atlético Madrid team. A 0-0 draw at home is by no means a poor result in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, as Chelsea discovered in their defeat by Atlético at the same stage this time last year.
Here, after a slow-burn first half, both teams seemed to settle for stasis, Madrid reduced to diffuse pressure and shots from distance despite fielding the full hand of grand attacking talents. Atlético were compact as ever, producing their only real attacking surge in the last 10 minutes of a disciplined first leg of a tie that remains entirely in the balance. The stadium is a stately, doomed, crumbling concrete shell these days, but it remains one of the fiercest, loudest places to play football.
As the teams emerged here the roar from the red and white-draped home fans was thrillingly boisterous on a wild, windy, slightly frantic night in Madrid. There is of course an easy dichotomy to be drawn between these two teams – the people’s club against the all-devouring machine – but it is reflected the way Diego Simeone’s side play, their all-action style an echo of the kind of football England’s first great striker Steve Bloomer found when he coached in the Basque country between the wars. Back then Spanish clubs would leave water troughs around the touchlines so players could dunk their heads in while running themselves into a state of exhaustion. Don’t tell Simeone. He’ll get ideas.
Here though Atlético were cagey and compact at the start, Diego Simeone too smart to allow the memory of six undefeated meetings with Real this season to cloud the realities of a two-legged tie.
Instead it was Madrid who settled quicker, and Gareth Bale who had the first chance after four minutes, put through on goal by a simple pass after Diego Godín slipped over. Bale’s shot was too close to Jan Oblak, who stood up well and blocked.
With Bale back after a foot injury Carlo Ancelotti had his A-team out for this match, with the craft and guile of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez providing that beguiling, if perhaps slightly lightweight midfield, reconfigured to a flat four here in a fairly orthodox 4-4-2.
Rodríguez offered drive and strength on the left in the opening exchanges, as did Modric, whose willingness to tackle and pass and snipe makes him probably the closest thing to an Atlético player in this Real team. Modric it was who was fouled 30 yards from goal, offering Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to punt in a theatrically delayed free-kick that Oblak smothered by his post.
This had always looked like a significant match for Bale, his willingness to work defensively key to nullifying Atlético’s strength on the flanks. Perhaps with this in mind, the only semi-surprise in Simeone’s lineup was the inclusion of the Guilherme Siqueira at left-back, presumably to add some extra speed on that flank. Bale started well enough, once almost teeing up Ronaldo in the six yard box. And for a while Atlético were a little subdued, the crowd lifted to its full pitch only by the sight of Antoine Griezmann dumping Sergio Ramos on the ground by the halfway line.
Either side of which Ancelotti’s side dominated possession and Atlético remained compact, understandably cagey stuff from a home team with away goals on its mind against visitors who have been stung in this stadium too often in the last six months.
Steadily though the game opened up, Bale shot hard and low from 30 yards with 31 minutes gone, drawing a good low save from Oblak. Five minutes later Oblak saved again, this time from Rodríguez, whose lovely curling shot seemed to be heading for the corner. For Atlético Griezmann had begun to ferret profitably, dropping back into midfield to receive the ball. And just before half-time there was even the sight of the astonishingly quick Rafael Varane – in for Pepe presumably to combat Griezmann’s pace - sprinting the length of the field from a corner to almost tee up Ronaldo.
If the first half was goalless it was also increasingly urgent, Atlético emerging from behind their guard at times, and Madrid spreading the ball wide with some elan. It was Atlético who pushed at the start of the second half, Juanfran making good ground down the right flank, twisting away from Rodríguez and crossing for Arda Turan to head wide when he might have hit the target.
There was some spikiness for a while: Mario Mandzukic was elbowed on the bridge of the nose by Ramos and left the pitch in a state of some distress to have a bandage applied. Ramos, with some justification, maintained his innocence. Minutes later Dani Carvajal seemed to punch Mandzukic in the stomach off the ball, an incident that was missed by the five match officials present.
Throughout Ronaldo remained a muted presence, offering very little from his circumscribed centre forward’s role. At times he strolled. At others he berated the referee. In between he produced some grudging high grade touches, a high spec trundle in a match that thrummed with urgency in patches. Not least in a tight midfield battle that saw Atlético fall back as Kroos and Modric shuttled the ball about elegantly, then break upfield in one well-grooved movement, Turan in particular a ghosting threat on the right.
Atlético had their best period towards the end in a final 10 minutes during which they might easily have taken the lead, Fernando Torres and Mario Suárez both almost forcing the ball home. It wasn’t to be. The return at the Santiago Bernabéu next week promises to be equally absorbing, and equally tight.