Keylor Navas and Cristiano Ronaldo the best of Real Madrid's bad bunch
Real Madrid saw their title hopes well and truly dashed against a red and white wall as Atletico Madrid extended their unbeaten run over their city rivals to six matches with a 1-0 victory. Antoine Griezmann scored the only goal of the game to leave Real nine points adrift of leaders Barcelona.
Zidane elected to square up to Atletico's no-nonsense midfield without a true defensive midfielder, preferring Isco and James Rodriguez to the more combative approach of Casemiro or Mateo Kovacic.
The results were predictable: Real enjoyed 69 percent of possession but little of it was meaningful as the visitors successfully strangled the hosts' creative outlets with a solid 4-4-2. The absence of Marcelo robbed Real of one of their most effective attacking players -- Danilo was not an adequate replacement.
Real were lightweight, second to most balls and clearly rattled by the physical approach of Diego Simeone's side. For Madridistas there is little more unedifying than being given the run-around by Atletico and there were plenty who voted with their feet and left before the final whistle.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Keylor Navas, 8 -- Navas made a great save from Griezmann and another from Koke when it was 0-0. He also kept his side in the match with a fine block to deny Saul in the second half.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 -- A rare off-day from the full-back, whose final ball left a lot to be desired. He wasn't helped by having James in front of him for 55 minutes but showed no noticeable improvement after the Colombian's substitution.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- Ramos played a dodgy back pass that Navas did not appreciate early on but made a vital block on Fernando Torres in the first half when the Atletico striker was about to shoot from close range. As Real chased the game the captain picked up a booking, which means a suspension that adds to the problems at the back.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- He denied Torres a shooting chance early on when he nicked the ball away and also went close with a glancing header at the other end. Real's best defender on the day, he covered the lines well.
DF Danilo, 6 -- The Brazilian had a decent shout for a penalty after tangling with Gabi but didn't impose himself in any way until late in the game, when he dragged a shot wide at the end of the second half after launching a counter in tandem with Jese. Danilo was solid but unspectacular, and Real needed the latter.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Kroos lost possession on the edge of his own area to hand Griezmann a chance in the second half but was otherwise at the heart of the midfield battle. That he was outgunned was not his fault but a failure to address Atletico's formation on the part of his manager. The German international made seven tackles and found a teammate with 94 percent of his passes.
MF Luka Modric, 6 -- The Croatian wasn't as involved as his midfield partner and lacked time on the ball to try and drive the side forward. Trying to mix it with Gabi and Augusto Fernandez is not the easiest afternoon Modric will have this season but it is a concern that he was silenced so easily.
MF Isco, 5 -- Utterly anonymous in the first half and only the fact that James was even less effective allowed him to stay on the pitch until the 70th minute, at which point Zidane had had enough and threw on Jese. In mitigation, Isco at least tried to make something happen by taking on the Atletico back line.
FW James Rodriguez, 4 -- James lent a hand in defence but was dispossessed far too many times to be a threat in the opposition half. His passing was wayward as well. The boos from the stands said it all: This was an afternoon to forget for the Colombian, who was hooked for Lucas Lucas Vazquez early in the second half.
FW Karim Benzema, 5 -- He went off injured at half-time, but wasn't very influential in the 45 minutes before that. The striker did almost wriggle through the Atletico brick wall from Ronaldo's quick throw but was hauled down by Diego Godin.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 -- Responsible for all three of Real's efforts on target and tried all afternoon to make something out of nothing. Lacking any meaningful support, though, Ronaldo was isolated and desperately missed his usual conspirator on the left hand side, Marcelo.
FW Borja Mayoral, 6 -- The youngster came on for Benzema for the second half and had a golden chance to score but snatched at his shot. He made some good runs and racked up a 100 percent pass completion rate.
MF Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Vazquez provided direct running and pulled the Atletico back four around when Real were pressing for an equalizer in the final 10 minutes.
FW Jese, NR -- Tellingly was only used after both Mayoral and Vazquez had been brought on. Jese didn't have time to impose himself on the match but, like his fellow subs, at least he put in a shift.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.