This time there was no late, late Jude Bellingham celebration and no way back. The man who got injury-time winners in Real Madrid’s past two games, scorer of six goals in six games and the most decisive player – by far – in Spain this season, could not find another comic-book moment. Instead, the Englishman’s first Madrid derby ended with the Metropolitano crowd belting out Atlético’s anthem as Diego Simeone conducted them on their way to a 3-1 victory.
It also ended with Bellingham booked for a tackle on Ángel Correa that led to the two teams confronting each other. If that was an act of frustration perhaps, it could be understood. Toni Kroos’s superb strike had given Real hope just before half-time but, ultimately, two goals from Álvaro Morata and another from Antoine Griezmann gave the home side a deserved victory. It was only their second in the past 15 meetings between these two grand rivals.
Asked how Atlético were supposed to stop Bellingham, Memphis Depay had told ESPN: by scoring two goals; that way a 95th-minute goal from the Englishman would not be enough. If that sounded like a fairly un-Simeone plan, it turned out to be the one they applied, this stadium – recently expanded to 70,000 – bouncing about, delivering a derby noisier than anyone could remember, at least since they left their Calderón home, 22km south-west of here.
It was the perfect accompaniment and they needed it to be. Atlético played like their footballing lives depended on it, which perhaps they did. They knew that defeat here would leave them 11 points behind Madrid, title challenge virtually over before the autumn had come. In those opening 20 minutes, Madrid could not contain them. Atlético seemed to be coming from everywhere and the visitors seemed unable to cover anywhere, unexpectedly open. On the left, Fran García was struggling with Marcos Llorente and Nahuel Molina.
If the danger often came from there, the decisive moments came on the other side, where Atlético’s Samuel Lino, a wing-back who was more winger than defender, flew. In front of him, Lucas Vázquez, a winger playing as a full-back, was overwhelmed watching the Brazilian come at him. Two runs led to two headers and the two goals.
In the first, after just four minutes, Lino cut inside and delivered a superb right-foot cross over the head of David Alaba to Morata. Alone in the centre of the area, he leaped high and powered the header down into the net beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga. The second, 15 minutes later, ended with him releasing Saúl Ñíguez, who stood the ball up for Griezmann to nod in. Between those, there had been another headed opportunity, this time for José Giménez.
The good news for Madrid was that they had conceded the first in three of the past four games – and in the other, against Celta, they had also let in the first only for it to be fortunately ruled out – and had succeeded in winning them all. Besides, if anyone knows from hard experience that Madrid are never beaten, it is Atlético. Amidst the chaos, Bellingham had sought to carry the game, twice tumbling near the edge of the area after determined runs and becoming the subject of the first two fouls. From one, Alaba’s free-kick hit the wall.
Atlético continued to threaten every time they got up and running, but Madrid would find a way back in, Kroos doing what Kroos does: turning smoothly, waiting for the ball to sit just right, he struck a perfect low shot into the corner beyond Jan Oblak. Now the gap was just one again. The derby was back on, and Madrid were back in charge of it. They might also have been level just before half-time when Bellingham’s lovely pass was pushed against the post by Alaba. The ball ran along the line for Eduardo Camavinga to score but the flag was up against Antonio Rüdiger.
Instead, it was Atlético who scored, immediately after the restart. Another left-wing cross, another header, and it was three. Ñíguez’s cross was perfect; Morata’s header was unstoppable. Not long after, Hermoso’s was almost perfect, clipping off the bar. Madrid’s vulnerability now was startling. When Carlo Ancelotti took off Vázquez and García before the hour, replacing them with more safety-first defenders in Ferland Mendy and Nacho Fernández it came perhaps with an accusation of culpability but also a recognition that as much as chasing the game now, they had to stop the bleeding and get back into it.
It was early enough that one moment could change this. On as a sub and finally providing a reference point up front, Joselu’s control on the chest set up Rodrygo for a shot that was blocked before Aurelién Tchouaméni struck just wide. A similar effort from Rüdiger flashed past the same post.
With Bellingham driving them, wanting the ball all across the front line, Madrid had the possession now if not the clarity or incision required. Crosses came, lots of corners too, but not with the accuracy of their opponents. And all the while, time slipped away. Brahim Díaz’s introduction gave them invention, but when he escaped up the right, Oblak was there to push the shot out. There was no way through, not even for them.