Of all the headlines on the eve of the game against Atlético on Saturday night, this was the one I liked the most: “Undefeated Atlético de Madrid face their rival in distress, Real Madrid, at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium “.
Sorry? Whoever wrote that description of the Madrid derby must have been cowering long before Dani Carvajal’s goal ended up at the net, helping to close out a satisfying week for Zinedine Zidane that will have silenced critics for a day or so.
Despite the fact that there has been previously talk that not everyone in the Real dressing room supports Zinedine Zidane, it would have been difficult to find someone playing Atlético with any kind of attitude other than the winning mentality.
It has been a long time since I saw Diego Simeone take defeat that way. Cholo is usually lively and passionate on the sidelines, but I think even he was surprised by the way Real controlled the game from start to finish and his body language at one point in the second half said it all.
We even had the situation where Cholo resorted to acting as a peacemaker by preventing Stefan Savić from tackling referee Matéo Lahoz in the final time.
Real Madrid have improved a few things since losing to Alavés and Shakhtar Donetsk and it showed on Saturday night. Real’s response to those two defeats began last weekend with a win in Seville before beating Borussia Mönchengladbach midweek to progress in the Champions League.
Sevilla’s match was strangely reminiscent of a previous visit to Sánchez Pizjuan a few years ago when anything other than a victory was supposed to see the end of Zidane’s previous reign at the Bernabéu.
The critics were also wrong on that occasion. As in last weekend’s game, Real Madrid teamed up with a man and put on a very professional performance before getting on the team bus and heading back to the capital without causing any fuss.
However, coming back to the present, it was particularly satisfying to see players like Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos, who have proven themselves as undisputed leaders once again, cementing their recent return from injury by playing well and truly on the field.
Neither of these two is embarrassed to play their role off the court. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they are both quick enough to come out and endorse Zinedine Zidane in public at times when criticism is fiercest. You can tell by their facial expressions that their support is genuine and not just for the cameras.
The injury situation this season has meant that the experience that these two bring to the field has been greatly missed. It’s fair to say that the difference is obvious when one or both are in the starting eleven.
But, as we well know, the opportunities to rest between games this season are few and far between. Dani Carvajal wanted to remind everyone that they must now turn their attention to the next match with Athletic Bilbao at the Alfredo Di Stéfano on Tuesday night.
And just to round out Zidane’s night to perfection, Fede Valverde made an appearance from the substitute bench, thus scoring another name off the Real Madrid injured list.
Having come out with an injury described by Real’s medical team as a fracture of the posterior aspect of the tibia, his date of return to the game has been difficult to predict. With so many different types of fractures possible, it would be futile to have tried to estimate this without having the specific medical information available.
Injuries often don’t fit as well into boxes in real life as they do in textbooks, as there is always the unpredictable factor that needs to be taken into account. There could be several reasons why Fede was away for so long, but the important thing is that he is back.
However, Real still lack a team in top form, but regardless of who is still working to get back in shape, Zidane will surely be satisfied after having had so many players at the same time in recent weeks.
Barring injuries that may need attention after the derby, attention will now turn to preparations for Athletic Club’s visit on Tuesday.