It's official! Solari has revived Real – and their Liga title hopes
Written off after a dire start to the season under Julen Lopetegui, the Blancos are now second following an impressive 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid
Once the controversy dies away, only reality will remain.
There was a lot to argue about after Saturday’s absorbing derby at the Wanda Metropolitano but what is indisputable is that Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory over city rivals Atletico puts them back in the Spanish title race.
With this impressive victory, Los Blancos moved above Diego Simeone’s side in the Liga standings and to within five points of Barcelona, who face Athletic Club at San Mames on Sunday.
From Casemiro’s spectacular overhead kick to Sergio Ramos’s ice-cool penalty and Gareth Bale’s drilled finish for the third, this was a big performance for the big occasion from Real, who inflicted the hosts’ first home defeat in all competitions this season.
It brought back memories of Real under Zinedine Zidane, when the Frenchman led them to a 3-0 win at the Vicente Calderon in November 2016.
That was the last time any side in La Liga managed three goals at Atletico, merely underlining the monumental nature of Real’s achievement.
The Rojiblancos had only conceded four home goals in La Liga this season before this game, but Real, with new-found confidence flowing through their veins thanks to Santiago Solari, made themselves right at home.
That was evident in the way Vinicius Junior attacked down the left flank, with the 18-year-old nonplussed by having to take on the division’s meanest defence.
A couple of early tussles saw him given rough treatment by Atletico’s hard men and other players may have shrunk away from such a physical challenge but Vinicius simply rose to it.
The Brazilian kept going and after a sensational outside-of-the-boot cross which Lucas Vazquez wasted, he got his reward when Jose Gimenez brought him down on the edge of the area and referee Xavier Estrada Fernandez pointed to the penalty spot.
By this point it was already 1-1, with Casemiro of all people executing a spectacular overhead effort to break the deadlock, before Antoine Griezmann equalised with an ice-cool finish through Thibaut Courtois’s legs.
Atletico were made to wait with every finger and toe crossed as VAR ran the rule over their goal, proving Griezmann was onside, although the video officials missed – or dismissed – Angel Correa’s foul on Vinicius in the build-up.
The video referee was called upon again multiple times, determining that Gimenez’s foul on Vinicius, which started outside the area, continued inside. Another marginal call, but a key one.
Ramos took full advantage from the penalty spot, firing low to Jan Oblak’s right, perhaps profiting from his own reputation for using the Panenka technique.
The goalkeeper dived the right way but waited a split-second longer than he might otherwise have, to make sure he could keep the ball out if Ramos had chipped it.
Madrid got the benefit of the doubt in the second half when Alvaro Morata scored a sensational chip but VAR judged he was marginally offside, and Bale wrapped up the points with a neat finish after being thrown into the fray as a substitute.
The Welshman made an uncouth gesture at Atletico fans as he celebrated and, while a little unedifying, shows that even as a reserve he remains as motivated as ever.
In truth, Solari has put the fire back in almost every Real player. He has revived Madrid and, more importantly, their Liga title challenge.
After a trying season, the Blancos can finally begin to believe again.