Karim Benzema grabbed a late equaliser as Real Madrid drew 1-1 with league leaders Atletico in the Madrid derby on Sunday to keep their slim hopes of a La Liga title defence alive.
Luis Suarez put Atletico ahead after 15 minutes, slotting past keeper Thibaut Courtois with a brilliant outside-of-the-boot finish. Real Madrid struggled to get into the game in a poor first half, but had a penalty appeal turned down when Toni Kroos‘ corner was handled by Felipe inside the box.
Courtois was called into action on multiple occasions in the second half, saving well from Yannick Carrasco and Suarez to keep his team in the game. At the other end, Madrid were made to work hard to beat Jan Oblak, Karim Benzema being denied three times in quick succession before finally finding the net in the 88th minute. Madrid remain five points behind their City rivals, with Atletico still having a game in hand.
Atletico’s five-point lead going into this game, and Barcelona’s win on Saturday night, meant this was a derby Real Madrid simply could not afford to lose. Regardless of the overall performance, they avoided defeat late on here, and that means it remains a three-horse race for the league, even if Madrid are currently behind both of their rivals in the table.
The return of Benzema — the only reliable goalscorer in this Real Madrid squad — was a major boost. He’s not close to being 100 percent fit, but time and time again in the second half, it was the eventual goalscorer Benzema who was closest to beating Oblak. His importance to the team can’t be overstated.
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Madrid’s first-half performance was really poor. They were second-best to Atletico in every department and deserved to go in behind at half-time, even if that crucial handball decision went against them. Madrid’s win in this fixture back in December was one of their most straightforward victories all season and was based on a complete dominance of midfield, but that just wasn’t the case here.
Benzema’s return is hugely valuable, shown again by his goal, but the centre-forward is still not receiving sufficient support from his partners in attack. Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, and Isco all pose a theoretical goal threat, but they’ve scored just five league goals between them all season
Manager rating out of 10
6 — This was a difficult afternoon for Zinedine Zidane on the day he equalled the great Vicente del Bosque with 246 matches in charge of Real Madrid. His team didn’t perform at all in the first half, and Zidane’s decision to pick Rodrygo in attack, rather than an extra midfielder like Federico Valverde or Isco, looked like a mistake. The coach waited until the 59th minute before making a double change, bringing on Vinicius and Valverde, but the team did then improve immediately. Zidane will be quietly relieved with the result.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — Well beaten by Suarez but made a really good save from Carrasco after half-time and another from Suarez shortly afterwards.
DF Lucas Vazquez, 7 — Had a hard time up against Carrasco, getting nutmegged by the winger on one occasion in the first half. Got into a row with Suarez on half-time. Has now made 17 league appearances this year, his busiest season in a Real Madrid shirt.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 — Suarez’s intelligent movement for his goal caught Varane out, something which happened more than once in this game. Booked for a clumsy, high challenge on the Uruguayan in the second half.
DF Nacho, 6 — Badly exposed for Atletico’s opener, diving in for a tackle on Marcos Llorente upfield and leaving the defence behind him a man short when he failed to win the ball.
MF Casemiro, 8 — So often delivers when the team needs it most. Worked hard to make a physical impression in a poor first-half team performance, and then stepped up to provide the assist for Benzema’s equaliser.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 — He and Modric were central to Madrid winning this derby earlier this season, but neither reached those performance levels here. One good delivery from a corner in the first half yielded no reward.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — Not quite at his best and perhaps we’re seeing the first signs that Modric is starting to tire after a gruelling season.
FW Rodrygo, 5 — A surprise pick, he was mostly anonymous, struggling with the physicality of the game before being taken off early. Hasn’t scored in La Liga this season.
FW Marco Asensio, 6 — Poor again. So much talent, but just hasn’t offered enough this season despite being given chances by Zidane.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 — Hurried back from injury, such is his importance to this team. Scored late on to keep Madrid in the title race, having been denied repeatedly by Oblak before that. Now the foreign player with most league appearances in Real Madrid history ahead of Roberto Carlos.
MF Federico Valverde, 7 — Should have started the game, giving Madrid an extra body in midfield, and perhaps would have if he weren’t just back fit.
FW Vinicius, 7 — Improved the attack immediately and looked dangerous throughout. Created a really good chance for Benzema with an accurate cross, only for Oblak to save.