Carlo Ancelotti's side has been poor against the big teams so far this season but was rewarded for its positive football in a bad-tempered clash with city rivals Atletico.
Having gone 14 years without defeat against Atletico, Madrid lost to its city rivals in the final of the Copa del Rey last May at, of all places, the Santiago Bernabeu. And Carlo Ancelotti's men were then edged out by Diego Simeone's side again in La Liga back in September. Suddenly, the capital divide had been slammed shut by the men in red and white.
But it reopened Wednesday. Real was pumped for this one, eager to regain the bragging rights it had held for so long in this derby date, eager to improve a dismal record so far this season against the top teams and, in the process, take a giant step toward a first trophy under its Italian coach in the first leg of this Copa del Rey semifinal.
And it did all of that. It wasn't pretty, not at all, but it invariably isn't when Atletico is involved. This match was reminiscent of the bad-tempered final back in May and bygone Clasico clashes between Barca and Madrid. There was no love lost.
Madrid went in front with a Pepe strike which deflected in off Emiliano Insua. There was a large element of luck involved, but in this case, fortune favored the brave and by halftime, the lead looked more than fair. Atletico had barely been in it.
Simeone will have been fairly content with the narrow deficit at the break, but his side desperately needed to improve in the second period. And it did, at least initially, but it was soon struck by a damaging double blow: first, Jese fired Madrid two ahead following a wonderful pass by Angel Di Maria; then, Diego Costa was booked in what appeared his least severe intervention of the evening as he exaggerated a foul by the Argentine winger. Pepe laughed in his face.
With Costa now suspended for the second match and David Villa a big doubt after his injury at the weekend, Atletico definitely needed something now, but another deflected strike, this time hit by Di Maria and in off Miranda, compounded an already awful night for the Rojiblancos, who moments earlier had seen Luka Modric make a crucial goal-line clearance to deny Diego Godin's header.
"I don't believe we defended badly," Simeone said after. "There were two long-range goals that were deflected. They were not our errors."
Perhaps not. But in the end, Atletico paid the price for its negativity and fortune favored the team that went out to win the game. And that was Real Madrid.
"It was our best game," Ancelotti said. "Especially because the opponents are a good and very well-organized team. The desire would be for us to always play like we did tonight."
Against a team that has conceded only once in 2014, Atletico now needs a minor miracle. Madrid, meanwhile, made a statement against one of the best sides around. The final beckons.
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