Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid battled, literally,to a 0-0 first-leg draw at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday. This was not a match for the uncommitted. Every ball and challenge was heavily contested in a game that threatened to boil over at times, but never did.
The visitors had by far the better of the chances, particularly in the first period, and Atletico were grateful to goalkeeper Jan Oblak for keeping them in the tie with a string of fine saves.
However, for the fourth time this season Real failed to score at the Calderon as Atletico extended their unbeaten run in the Madrid derby this season to seven games. And the sides meet for the eighth time at the Santiago Bernabeu on 22 April.
Who knows how the game would have turned out if when just four minutes when Gareth Bale pounced on an uncharacteristic error from Diego Godin, but placed his shot too close to the keeper, who spread himself well to make the save.
Oblak was kept busy throughout the first 45 minutes as he held a free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo before palming away another fiercely struck shot from Bale. His best stop was yet to come as he dived low to his left to turn James Rodriguez’s inventive attempt with the outside of his left foot to safety.
At the other end, Iker Casillas wasn’t forced into action until eight minutes from the break when he comfortably held Antoine Griezmann’s shot on the turn. The chances continued to come for the visitors as Luka Modric blasted just over when well-placed at the edge of the box before Oblak was tested again by Rodriguez at the end of a stunning counter-attack led by Raphael Varane.
Atletico started the second period more brightly with Arda Turan heading wide from Juanfran’s cross. Mario Mandzukic was then left with a bloody nose thanks to a stray elbow from Sergio Ramos and the Croatian was on the end of more rough treatment soon when Dani Carvajal punched him in the stomach.
Real still dominated possession after the interval, but couldn’t get the break of the ball inside the area as Atletico somehow scrambled the ball clear 20 minutes from time with Ronaldo and Bale having numerous attempts blocked. The European champions were dealt a blow a minute from time as Marcelo saw a yellow card that will keep him out of the second leg.
And it was Real who were forced to hold on in the final stages as Casillas scrambled clear Mario Suarez’s effort from close range.
This is a tie that is balanced on a knife edge. The away goal rule could be vital here, ad I expect Atleti to get one in the Bernabeu next week. The question then is whether Real can get the two they would need to advance.