Cristiano Ronaldo’s 24th goal in 15 games for Real Madrid this year was not enough to earn his side a derby victory on Sunday as an Antoine Griezmann equaliser secured Atletico a 1-1 draw.
Ronaldo followed up last week’s brilliant bicycle kick against Juventus with a poacher’s finish at the Santiago Bernabeu but Griezmann’s strike keeps Atletico in pole position to finish second in La Liga.
They retain their four-point cushion over Real while this was perhaps the perfect result for leaders Barcelona, who are now 11 points clear at the top.
It not only tightens Barca’s grip on the title but will likely bring forward the point when the Catalans are mathematically certain to be champions, with the ‘clasico’ still a possible coronation day on May 6.
“We deserved more today clearly, it’s a shame,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane said afterwards. “We had many chances, but in the end we could have lost the game as well.”
Griezmann’s goal came on his 200th appearance for Atleti while Ronaldo’s was the 500th in the 161 league matches played between these two city rivals.
On Griezmann, Atletico coach Diego Simeone said: “He is a great player, he did not have a good start to the season and he knows it and it is not easy to reinvent himself in the way he did in November, December.
“I think the presence of (Diego) Costa has helped him a lot, having strength around him which allows him to be free.”
In comparison to recent versions of this fixture, which have included Champions League finals, Cope del Rey finals and league games with both sides vying for the championship, this at times had a rather low-key feel.
Zidane, with one eye on the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Juventus on Wednesday, started with Luka Modric and Karim Benzema on the bench, the latter coming on to spare Ronaldo the final half an hour.
Los Blancos own a 3-0 advantage over Juve but Zidane insists they cannot afford to be complacent.
“Everyone sees us going through to the semi-finals and that’s exactly what we should not put in our head,” Zidane said. “We know very well that we will have to suffer again on Wednesday.”
Gareth Bale was given 90 minutes, perhaps not the most positive indicator for his chances of a start in midweek. The Welshman supplied the cross for Ronaldo’s equaliser but, in truth, he was quiet for long periods here, a pale shadow of his confident, marauding best.
A game that looked in danger of drifting towards a stalemate sparked into life after half-time with two goals in four minutes.
Ronaldo scored the first as Bale’s hanging cross was misjudged by Lucas Hernandez at the back post, allowing the striker to volley in his 23rd league goal of the season.
But Atleti were soon level. Griezmann slipped in Lucas and then continued his run so he was perfectly placed to slide home the rebound after Keylor Navas had parried.
Real were more aggressive in the search for a late winner but Atleti dug in. Bale almost had it but put a difficult header wide, while Sergio Ramos nodded past from a corner and saw his curling free-kick tipped over by Jan Oblak. If only Ronaldo had still been on the field to take it.