Gareth Bale injured as Real and Atlético play out Madrid derby stalemate

Gareth Bale was withdrawn at half-time with a suspected groin strain as the Madrid derby between Real and Atlético at the Santiago Bernabéu ended in a 0-0 draw

Before this game began, Real Madrid’s players were handed the trophies they had collected at The Best gala last Monday, and there were two World Cup winners on the other side, but for all the talent on the pitch it was the men wearing gloves who decided the derby. For the sixth successive year, Atlético Madrid left the Santiago Bernabéu unbeaten in the league. Above all, Jan Oblak and Thibaut Courtois departed undefeated: in a game of few chances there were three one-on-ones, but the goalkeepers stood tall. And so a game Atlético edged in the first half and Real dominated in the second finished goalless.

This was the second successive game in which Real have failed to score – the first time that had happened in seven years – and a third may be more likely now after Gareth Bale was withdrawn at half-time. He may yet be ruled out of Real’s trip to Russia in the Champions League with tests due on Sunday, before the team travels east. “He had discomfort in his abductor muscle [in the groin] and it made sense to take him off as a precaution,” Real’s coach Julen Lopetegui said. “We will do tests tomorrow and then we’ll see what he really has.”

In Bale’s absence, Real took a step up after a first half in which they might have found themselves behind and which had been difficult from the start, Saúl Ñíguez bringing a save from Courtois after just two minutes and Antoine Griezmann’s overhead kick slicing wide three minutes later. Griezmann probably should have put Atlético ahead on 18 minutes. Released by Koke, dashing behind the Madrid defence, he ran into the area, where Courtois came to meet him. With the outside of his left foot, Griezmann tried to flick the ball beyond the Belgian but it came back off his head.

That was to prove the first of two decisive saves, as Atlético sped up, the ball moved swiftly – although Real too had their moments. Saúl bent a shot just wide; then Koke’s cross hit Casemiro on the arm, Atlético appealing for a penalty; next Diego Costa got away, Griezmann sending him running through ahead of Raphaël Varane and towards the six-yard box. He travelled a similar path to Griezmann and with the same outcome. Courtois slid out, his body wide, and saved with his left hand.

Two superb saves from the former Atlético loanee kept Real in it and then an error from the man who replaced him almost gifted the hosts the opening goal. With Marco Asensio chasing down, Oblak tried to play the ball beyond the Madrid winger, only for the pass to hit him. There were echoes of Loris Karius but rather than rebound into the net, the ball looped back up into the goalkeeper’s arms.

Bale’s removal at half-time was driven by injury, but it also meant Real shifting from 4-3-3 to match Atlético’s 4-4-2, and Real felt the benefit. Immediately, Casemiro shot over, then Asensio’s effort was stopped at the near post by Oblak. And with Dani Ceballos nominally on the left but drifting across to up Real’s numbers inside, the balance had certainly shifted; the ball was Real’s now, even if chances were few.

The best came when Real opened Atlético up on the left, Toni Kroos slipping the ball across for Asensio running into the area. He was clean through with the game’s best opportunity, but Oblak was out fast to deny him with an excellent save.

Diego Simeone sought protection, sending on Thomas Partey to replace Diego Costa, but it was not so simple. Diego Godín gave the ball away to Asensio on the halfway line and the entire pitch was suddenly before him, fans standing and roaring at him to run. He did, but José Giménez ran too, Atlético’s other Uruguayan centre-back sprinting across to clear. In the next two attacks, neither Asensio nor Nacho could find the right pass, but Atlético were ever deeper and ever more concerned.

Not that Real’s chances were plentiful. And as the substitutions came, there were moments when the visitors broke. When Luka Modric found Dani Carvajal, his shot was beaten away by Oblak, and the noise and the expectation rose, yet it was rarely met. For Atlético, the aim had become to resist, something at which they are experts. The 18-year-old Brazilian Vinícius Júnior was sent on for his debut, Lopetegui admitting his need for speed, and in the last minute he was brought down, giving Real a free-kick. A familiar face headed up for the dead ball, just as he had against Atlético in the Champions League final in Lisbon four years ago. “And Sergio Ramos scores a goal!” the fans chanted. This time, though, he didn’t. Nor did anyone else.


Sid Lowe at the Santiago Bernabéu

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