Fernando Torres
Fernando Torres

It was the perfect motivation. Atletico, still scarred by leaving Monday’s Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich with zero reward for their astonishing achievements in 2014, watched on as Cristiano Ronaldo presented his Golden Ball to the Bernabeu crowd.
Madrid were in celebratory mood; Atleti were out to prove a point. Ronaldo was all smiles alongside Puskas prize winner James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos (both included in the FIFPro XI on Monday as Diego Costa and Diego Godin inexplicably missed out). And less than a minute into the game, with fans only just back in their seats after raising a huge gold mosaic in Cristiano’s honour, Diego Simeone’s side took the lead through Fernando Torres.
“It was hard [on them],” Simeone said afterwards. “There was a big crowd and the choreography was very pretty, but such an early goal marked the rhythm of the match. It wasn’t part of the [Madrid] plan.”
When Torres left Atletico, he was too good for his boyhood club. And when Torres came back, they were supposedly too good for him. But much like the rest of his team-mates and his coach as well, he was out to prove a point in this match – and he did so emphatically.
After his early first, Madrid suddenly needed four and they never really recovered. Indeed, after pulling back a goal through Sergio Ramos later in the first half, Carlo Ancelotti’s men made the same mistake again in the second period as Torres netted an even quicker goal from the restart. To do it once was careless; twice was unforgivable.
The Ballon d’Or has been a distraction to Madrid’s start to 2015, with back-to-back defeats in the build-up to the ceremony and now this latest disappointment. Ronaldo has been off the boil, presumably preoccupied with the individual prize, while the team have failed to find the form that saw them rack up 22 straight wins before Christmas.
For Atleti, meanwhile, this was a golden opportunity to show why they should not have been ignored in Monday’s gala. Simeone, who missed out on the Coach of the Year award to Germany’s Joachim Low, admitted the club would work harder still to try and change opinions.
“It doesn’t depend on us,” he said on Wednesday. “So we have to accept things as they are and keep working in search of that acceptance.”
That will certainly have formed part of the Argentine’s pre-match pep talk. Madrid celebrating their awards right under their rivals’ noses merely added fuel to the fire right before kick-off.
Torres, once linked with Real, was perhaps the unexpected hero with both his side’s strikes at the Bernabeu, but Simeone relishes working with players who have a point to prove. Virtually all of Atleti’s side fall into that category but none more than the Spain striker, caught in a seemingly endless downward spiral over the last few seasons.
“When he came through the youth system, he was such a young kid and so much happened,” Simeone said of his former team-mate after the match. “He left, he grew and now he’s a man. The fans are happy and his arrival is helping us – even if many doubted.”
Torres has also returned to a team transformed. Prior to Simeone’s arrival as coach, Atleti had not beaten Real since 1999 – and that included all of Fernando’s first spell at the Vicente Calderon between 2000 and 2007.
But under the Argentine, Atleti have now won five derbies, including three in a row before Thursday’s 2-2 draw, while Torres was on the winning side on his debut last week and sealed his team’s place in the last eight of the Copa del Rey with both goals on Thursday. It is quite the turnaround.
For their part, Madrid will be pleased to see the back of their city rivals for a while and Ancelotti’s men – Ronaldo included – will now need to forget all about the Ballon d’Or. Atleti, however, will want to keep remembering it.