The La Liga rivals both put out strong sides at the MetLife stadium with bragging rights very much high on the priority list for the players and the supporters. But 4-0 down after 20 minutes, and 5-0 down by half-time, a first half hat-trick from Diego Costa, Joao Felix’s maiden goal since making his £114million move from Benfica and a stunning strike from Angel Correa had Real embarrassed at the interval.
Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos and Thibaut Courtois looked dumbfounded. This was not how it was supposed to go.
All the talk pre-match surrounded Gareth Bale and his imminent exit – as it has done for most of the year – but that all disappeared inside 20 minutes. Bale was out of sight and out of mind – starting on the bench – in the eyes of boss Zinedine Zidane, who has made it plain to the media on the club’s pre-season tour that the Welshman plays no part in his plans moving forward.
But right now Zidane’s issues run far deeper than moving Bale on as his new-look side got torn to pieces like meat in a lion’s enclosure, shipping five against their bitter rivals in just 45 minutes. Seven by the time the final whistle went. Zidane was stunned. His side had no answers and that will have worried him more than anything.
The first came inside 45 seconds. Felix, starting behind a front two of Alvaro Morata and Costa, flicked the ball into the path of Costa and he did brilliantly to shift onto his right, find a yard and fire across goal into the bottom corner courtesy of a crucial deflection off the calf of Ramos.
It was a dream start for Diego Simeone’s side who, as they have in many Madrid derbies in recent years, emerged from the tunnel as underdogs. But they quickly became top dogs as their lead was doubled on eight minutes.
Atletico were swarming Real in wide areas, exploiting acres of space vacated by Los Blancos’ full-backs and after one warning soon after the opener, Courtois was collecting the ball from his net for a second time when Felix stabbed home from close range.
A cut-back from the left picked out an unmarked Felix, who had done brilliantly to pull off Ramos and he had the enviable task of poking into the net from five yards out for his first goal in Atleti colours.
The pressure was off. Simeone’s players were running the show with ease. Two goals up after just eight minutes, they were ready to go for the jugular. Real’s confidence was shot.
Even simple five-yard passes looked tinged with anxiousness and that reverberated from back to front. And yet the Atleti storm gave Real no time to hit the reset button or lick their wounds with attack after attack threatening more damage.
For Zidane, he never once turned to look at Bale, the man who was the driving force behind all the things that went right in the recent friendly win over Arsenal.
The Welshman appears to be all but set to make the move to China and he was not going to be given the chance to play the role as hero in New York.
That was merely the sideshow to the main act and there was plenty more to come with the third arriving on 20 minutes – easily the strike of the night. Atletico captain Koke was quickest to react as he poked through an onrushing pair of players and into the path of Correa who took the time to flick it up and fire home into the corner on the turn. The confidence was oozing out of those in red and white and this was quickly turning into a living nightmare.
The camera panned back to Zidane, no expression, no emotion. He merely looked up to the scoreboard and he would have been forgiven to think where it had all gone so wrong, so quickly.
Costa, when he is at his best is close to unplayable. He toyed with Ramos like a cat with its string and soon it was four when the ball broke loose inside the area. There was no-one within three yards of him and he simply caressed it into the bottom corner. That was his second, and Atletico’s fourth.
The fifth was not far behind, either. A rash challenge inside the penalty area summed up the anger and frustration that dominated Real’s play in the second half of the opening 45 minutes.
It was a stonewall foul on Felix and up stepped Costa for his hat-trick. A puff of the cheeks and the whistle blew. Courtois dived to his right and the ball flew in to his left. The half-time whistle went and the scoreboard looked comically broken, so one-sided was the score. It read Atletico 5-0 Real Madrid. At 5-0 Atletico would have been forgiven, particularly in pre-season, if they opted to take their foot off the gas.
Real were wounded beyond repair. The result was in no doubt. But Simeone continued to demand excellence, bouncing on the touchline and six minutes after the restart it was 6-0, Costa bagging his fourth following an assist from the impressive Felix.
Simeone turned to the bench and it was time to unleash the kids. What a moment to introduce them into.
Atletico’s bitter rivals were like a boxer unable to get off the ropes, taking serious blow after serious blow. Zidane’s men rallied for a fleeting moment and got themselves a consolation through Nacho but it brought out next to no celebrations. And right it shouldn’t. Nothing about being 6-1 down to your rivals is worth celebrating.
These two sides bring out the best – and the worst – in each other and when Costa produced a rash challenge on Dani Carvajal on the hour mark, it was not totally surprising to see a 22-man brawl break out. Zidane ran on to the pitch to pull his man away. Simeone did likewise.
But the damage was done as the two players went head-to-head spitting fierce jibes at each other and the referee, ignoring the fact it is a pre-season friendly, produced a red card apiece. Costa had gone from the hero to the villain in typical Costa style.
A leopard really doesn’t change its spots. And so the game rolled on, Bale introduced with the result beyond any doubt and Real no doubt wishing time to evaporate as quickly as possible just so the miserable evening could end.
They did at least rally late on, with Bale on the pitch but not before super-sub Vitolo added a goal to put Atletico in Seventh Heaven. Karim Benzema made it 7-2 before Theo Hernandez got a third with a minute left to reduce the deficit even further. It was all scant consolation in what proved a brutal lesson.
Zidane has spent more than £300m this summer building a new dawn and yet when the sun came down in New York, there was nothing but question marks over a group that is expected to dominate domestically and in Europe this season.