With the Argentine set to depart and Cristiano Ronaldo struggling for fitness, coach Carlo Ancelotti saw his side surrender a trophy they were expecting to win on Friday
Things had appeared so rosy for Real Madrid. Summer signings bedding in, Cristiano Ronaldo back on form and seemingly in shape and another trophy added as the club claimed the Uefa Super Cup in Cardiff last week. But in the space of a few days, all of that good work has seemingly gone to waste.
Friday's Spanish Supercopa second leg at the Vicente Calderon started with a bang as Mario Mandzukic shot the home side in front after just two minutes. But in truth, the rest of the match never quite lived up its brilliant beginning.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti decided against risking Cristiano Ronaldo from the outset after the Portuguese was substituted at half-time in the first match on Tuesday, while Angel Di Maria was cut from the squad altogether and now looks likely never to play for the club again.
"It was a technical decision to leave him out," Ancelotti said afterwards. "We didn't need Di Maria." Which was firstly not true and secondly, another way of saying that the winger is on his way out - even though he is still badly needed.
TROUBLED | Ancelotti's explanation for Di Maria's absence was far from convincingThat's a sad scenario for Madrid and their fans as a season that started with so much promise is already affected by off-pitch problems and internal disputes. Even with the placid Ancelotti in place, it seems the club are falling back into habits of old - and Atleti are not the sort of team to show sympathy.
For Diego Simeone's side, the derby is always an important occasion and even more so when there is a trophy at stake. Add to that the fact that Madrid beat Atletico in cruel circumstances in the Champions League final back in May and they were always going to be fired up for this one.
But after the initial shock of conceding so early, Madrid were actually quite good - and certainly much better than in Tuesday's first leg at the Bernabeu. This time, at least, they were creating clear chances. They just weren't taking them.
James Rodriguez came close with an angled drive and also headed just wide, while Gareth Bale sent a low shot agonisingly off target as Ancelotti's men pushed for an equaliser before the break.
Earlier, Simeone was sent to the stands for sarcastically applauding the referee and palming his assistant on the back of the head, but before he left, the Argentine made sure he had geed up the fans and the crowd responded with huge cheers of "Ole, ole, ole, Cholo Simeone!" All for one and one for all - the Atleti way.
Ancelotti sent on Ronaldo after the interval and the Portuguese showed no signs of his troublesome tendinosis, but Madrid lost the momentum from the end of the first half and chances were divided between the two teams in an even second period. If anything, Atleti came closest as Raul Garcia saw a fierce drive cannon off the crossbar and Iker Casillas clawed away the rebound.
WINNER | Simeone was sent off on Friday but ended up a happy manThere were nerves aplenty in the closing minutes as Atleti fans remembered what had happened in Lisbon in May, when they had been moments away from winning the Champions League before Sergio Ramos' last-gasp header broke their hearts. Many were on their feet in anxiety, while Simeone twitched and barked orders from behind the Red Cross tent where none of the players could probably see him - let alone hear him.
But that's the intensity and the desire of this team. Things were made easier for them, though, as Luka Modric was sent off late on and they sealed yet another improbable triumph - despite losing the spine of their team in the summer. No Thibaut Courtouis? No Diego Costa? No Filipe Luis? No problem.
"They are not the same players, but they are adapting to us and we have to adapt to them," Simeone said afterwards. "We are improving and the important thing is the group. Over one or two games, we can compete with anyone." They showed that again on Friday.
Madrid, however, have issues to address. James is willing but not quite ready to fill the sizeable shoes of Di Maria and the Argentine's seemingly inevitable departure has thrown the club into disarray when they were supposed to be closing in on a dream of six titles in 2014-15.
With Ronaldo still struggling for fitness as well, some of the shine has suddenly come off Madrid's summer and at the start of a long and demanding season, Ancelotti already has much more than a surrendered Supercopa to ponder.