Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez dismissed claims his side had paid for an overly defensive approach as Luciano Vietto’s late equaliser handed Atletico Madrid a 1-1 draw in the capital derby on Sunday.
Benitez’s men went in front early on through Karim Benzema, but attempted to sit on their lead and were caught out seven minutes from time when Vietto bundled home his first goal for Atletico from close range. The Argentine’s strike was just the second goal Real have conceded in nine games under Benitez, but they were again thankful to goalkeeper Keylor Navas as he saved Antoine Griezmann’s first-half penalty and made a brilliant stop from Jackson Martinez in stoppage time.
“In the first half we were dominant and controlled the game that we knew they wanted to play,” said the former Liverpool and Chelsea boss. “In the second half they played with more intensity, but we had eight chances to counter but weren’t accurate with the final or penultimate pass
Victory would have taken Real to the top of the table, but they failed to take advantage of Barcelona’s defeat to Sevilla on Saturday to remain a point behind surprise leaders Villarreal, who also lost on Sunday at Levante. Barcelona are significantly depleted by a raft of injuries to the likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta as well as the consequences of a one-year ban on registering new players.
However, Benitez insisted he wasn’t obsessed with building a significant lead on the Catalans before the sides clash on 21 November.
“We are only interested in ourselves and winning every game,” he added. “Now we have to hope that there are no problems with the national teams.”
Despite his side’s late comeback, Atletico coach Diego Simeone lamented not having claimed a third consecutive derby win over Real in the league as his side rebounded from back-to-back defeats against Villarreal and Benfica.
“In the second half we had a lot more chances. We equalised and then their keeper made a great save at the end,” said Simeone. “The sensation is that we have lost two points and that we were very close to winning a game that on chances we deserved to win.”
Simeone’s substitutions worked a treat as Vietto, Martinez and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco all made their biggest impact since joining the club this summer. A point leaves Atletico still two adrift of Madrid and Barcelona, but Simeone is content with their return from a difficult start to the campaign
“We are still looking for the right balance, but we have played seven games and I think the 13 points we have is not bad. We’ve played Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Villarreal both away. I think it is an important point but the feeling is that we could have won.”
And the man who masterminded Atletico’s amazing title triumph in 2013/14 hailed the competitive start to the season that sees Villarreal and Celta Vigo upsetting Madrid and Barcelona’s applecart.
“Villarreal are having a great season. The injuries are playing an important part too. Barcelona aren’t the same without Messi or Iniesta, Real Madrid miss James (Rodriguez) or Danilo, we miss Koke. We are all competing and at least it is more entertaining for everyone like this.