“Neither of us can compete to win the league,” the Atlético Madrid president, Enrique Cerezo, said. If it was true before the game when he said it, it is even more true after it. A 1-1 draw, secured with goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann, leaves Atlético 11 points behind Barcelona at the top of the table. It also leaves them four points clear of Real Madrid with seven matches remaining. They have now been here five years in a row without losing in the league; this has become a real rivalry and this was a competitive derby, despite the suggestion that it would be “decaffeinated”.
The result suited Atlético more, and it was the home side that sought the victory at the end, a superb save from Jan Oblak denying Sergio Ramos in the 90th minute. They did not want a draw, although that its importance was relative was perhaps revealed when Ronaldo was withdrawn after an hour. Both these sides almost certainly have European semi-finals ahead of them. What they do not have is a title race any more – but then they have known that for some time.
The game was only 80 seconds in when Gareth Bale let the ball run through his legs and raced away from Diego Godín out on the right touchline, and while the move ultimately came to nothing, it did come as a warning. Real Madrid began on the front foot, the corner count climbing rapidly, Stefan Savic standing in the way of a series of shots and crosses that started with Marcelo just three minutes later. Soon after, Marco Asensio’s shot hit Godín, and then Toni Kroos tumbled in the area, under a challenge from Juanfran. The shout was loud, but the referee wagged his finger.
Real had possession and Atlético were ill at ease, although the game did begin to open up and suddenly, on the half-hour, Diego Costa was in on the right side, his shot struck hard and low at the near post, where Keylor Navas pushed it wide. Savic shot over and five minutes from the break Vitolo was away, wide space ahead of him beyond the defence only for the flag to be raised – despite the fact that he had set off from well inside his own half.
Bale headed left from his starting point in the centre. From there, he clipped a lovely ball with the outside of the boot to Lucas Vázquez before a triple chance came – one shot blocked, one thundering off the bar, from Marcelo, and the third pushed away superbly by Oblak. Dani Carvajal had hit it. Oblak is not easily beaten but nor is he unbeatable. Eight minutes into the second half, Bale delivered a long, looping cross from the left. Lucas appeared to misjudge it, the ball dropping just behind him where Ronaldo was waiting and as it fell he volleyed it into the far corner.
Atlético’s response was swift. Saúl drew a save from Navas and then Griezmann slipped the ball into the area for Vitolo. Navas was out to him but the rebound came to Griezmann to score. Atlético were level and might have led too, when Navas denied Koke from close range with a superb save. Atlético found ways through Madrid now, Griezmann’s shot blocked, Savic’s effort just wide.
Ronaldo departed after but Real pressed, Marcelo at the heart of most of it, even if Atlético carried a threat still and Griezmann’s ball for Ángel Correa rolled across the face of goal. As the clock ticked down, Real piled into the area, where Bale turned but was snuffed out, Kroos shot over and, after an outrageous touch from Marcelo, Vázquez went down earning only a yellow card for diving.
With 10 seconds left, Real won a free-kick. Ramos stood over it, him again – the man whose 93rd minute goal had denied Atlético the European Cup. Not this time, though. His curling shot was heading for the top corner but Oblak flew and pushed it away. From the corner, Ramos came steaming in one more time but he would not score this time either, his header flying over. Neither of these teams will win the league and neither of them won the derby.