Madrid Derby ends 1-1 as Atletico dent Real's title hopes with late equalizer

Griezmann scored in the 85th minute. (Reuters)
Griezmann scored in the 85th minute. (Reuters)

Real Madrid stumbled in its campaign to end a four-season La Liga title drought with a 1-1 home tie with cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Real probably didn’t deserve much more, although it looked like it would get away with a sloppy performance. In a mostly cagey and slow game, Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas came up with several big saves that might have secured the points from Pepe’s 52nd-minute header, until Antoine Griezmann’s 85th-minute equalizer beat him.

[ Follow FC Yahoo on social media: Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr ]

And so Real’s margin over second-place Barcelona is now three points. Barca plays later in the day – away to Malaga – but Real will retain a game in hand. This means that the sides could wind up even on points when they meet head-to-head in the season’s second Clasico in the capital on April 23, should Barcelona win that match.

Looking at the remainder of Real’s slate of games going into Saturday’s affair, there were a few tricky fixtures among the nine contests. Atletico at home, Barcelona at home and Sevilla at home. Given that Sevilla has slipped from its title-contending form in recent weeks, Atletico represented the biggest threat to Real’s title aspirations if it let Barca close the gap some before the Clasico. And that’s exactly what happened.

It looked like, as so often this year, Zinedine’s side would grind out the result. Winning titles isn’t always pretty work, after all. It takes resounding wins and unsightly ones. But the record 32-time champions did not give themselves enough of a buffer in a tight game, leaving them vulnerable to a late goal.

Atletico threatened first, with a Koke free kick zipping right in front of goal after Saul headed it on but couldn’t get enough direction on it. But from there on, Atletico’s outstanding 24-year-old Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak got busy.

In the 15th minute, he saved well on Cristiano Ronaldo’s blast to the near post.

Oblak also denied Benzema and Bale. But, in the 31st minute, he was bailed out by Stefan Savic, whose miraculous, diving, goal-line header kept Ronaldo’s shot from going into the open net, after the Portuguese had already beaten Oblak with it.

Before half-time, Atletico would have its biggest chance yet as Griezmann raced through the Real half after a bad Sergio Ramos giveaway. But Navas sprawled and scrambled his low shot away.

Real pressed to open the second act. Ronaldo rose on the Marcelo cross but nodded it wide. And Oblak then denied Benzema point-blank with a brave spread-eagle save.

Pepe would finally put the home team ahead though. He met yet another pinpoint Toni Kroos free kick with a spinning header that zipped perfectly into the side netting.

Then it was Navas’s turn to come up big. On the hour, he delivered a massive denial on Fernando Torres, who was slipped through.

The Costa Rican net-minder then saved on Griezmann’s majestic bicycle kick.

But in the 85th, Griezmann managed to slip through Real’s back line once again – now without Pepe, who’d come off after a knock to his ribs by teammate Kroos. He was kept onside by the substitute Nacho and the Frenchman snapped it in by the near post before Keylor could close him down.

Real hadn’t the wherewithal to recover and even get close to another goal. Zidane’s men had comfortably won the stat sheet with 57 percent of possession, the higher passing accuracy, double the shots and more than double the chances created. Yet by sheer quality of chances, the contest had been even.

And Real couldn’t afford to be even at this stage in the season.

For Barca, the door to the league lead – and a third straight La Liga title – is once again open.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

What to Read Next