There was a time not so long ago that Real Madrid seemed undefeatable, as they carried all before them on an unparalleled run of 22 successive victories in all competitions to establish a Spanish record. Their ‘untouchable’ tag may be on the wane though, after defeat yesterday to bitter local rivals Atletico Madrid in the Spanish cup competition, following on so quickly after their league reversal at the hands of Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday.

Against Valencia they had started well and seemed on the road to another success after a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty had given them the lead going into the break. The home side battled back in the second period though, with goals from Antonio Barragan and Nicolas Otamendi turning the game on its head and ending Real’s winning streak, just two short of the world record set by the Brazilian club, Coritiba as recently as 2011.There had been discussions before the game at the weekend as to whether the streak had already ended, as Real Madrid lost to AC Milan in a friendly in Dubai played the previous Tuesday, but that was not a competitive fixture so was deemed to not count for record purposes. 

If they were likely to come unstuck against anyone, then away to Valencia in front of some 50,000 vocal fans was a potential banana skin, given their impressive home form with only a solitary loss to Barcelona this season blemishing their record. The home side clearly targeted the danger men, with Gareth Bale receiving one or two physical challenges early on, and by the conclusion there were six Valencia players in the referee’s notebook with cautions. Having tried the ‘heavy’ approach in the first-half with little apparent success, the home side took a more measured approach in the second (only one of their yellow cards came in the second-half) and it clearly paid richer dividends given the final result. Even then they rode their luck somewhat as Bale and Ronaldo missed presentable chances to equalise or go one better, so Real’s goal threat was as prevalent as ever, despite the loss. They also remained top of the league with a game in hand despite the loss, with both Barcelona and Atletico hot on their heels just a point behind. 

They still look to be genuine contenders to retain their Champions League crown, following on from their tenth winning of the prestigious trophy during 2014, after a dramatic finale saw them conquer Atletico in extra-time. The manner in which they came through this year’s group stages was impressive enough, being the only side in the competition to maintain a 100% record throughout, including victories home and away against five times champions, Liverpool. They can of course expect sterner challenges when the competition resumes in mid-February, given that many observers have been somewhat sceptical as to the strength of the rest of their group rivals, so will need to quickly regain the composure and clinical efficiency that has categorised their season up to now. Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and of course, Atletico are unlikely to be such pushovers if they come face to face with them later on in the competition. Their immediate challenge come the round of sixteen, to overcome the German side, Schalke would seem straightforward enough though.

Atletico were last season’s Spanish League champions and Champions League runners-up, so an away defeat to them yesterday in the first leg match of the Copa del Rey’s last 16 was never beyond the realms of possibility, and their hosts stuck to their task admirably to earn the 2-0 advantage they gained by the end of the match. Diego Simeone is a calculated coach as one might expect from the former Argentinian international and his side took the opportunities that were presented to them through second-half strikes from Raul Garcia and Jose Gimenez. Like Valencia at the weekend, Atletico were not afraid to take a physical approach against their mercurial opposition and the referee showed ten yellow cards during the match between the two teams, the sort of tough test that Simeone was probably hoping for.

On-loan Fernando Torres seemed to revel in his return to his former club with replica shirt sales for the former Liverpool and Chelsea man rocketing since his arrival, at a club that well remembers his former success there. He has tasted success over the men in white before though while with Liverpool, so may have been something of a lucky talisman for his new club this time around.

Ronaldo did not start against Atletico but was introduced with just under half an hour remaining, but was unable to swing the tie back Real’s way. This was a harder defeat for the Real players to stomach than Sunday’s defeat, although they did show some signs of their recent confidence in patches, and some soul searching is likely to be required afterwards to analyse what went wrong. 

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