Organisation is not Atletico Madrid's strong point. Their inability to safely hold a Champions League fixture is the primary reason for Uefa's pending three-game stadium closure, their inability to marshal a defence is the main reason why they have now lost their last three games.
Coach Javier Aguirre had picked a conservative midfield against Real on Saturday at the expense of winger Simao to prevent the disastrous start suffered against Barcelona two weeks ago when they were 3-0 down after eight minutes. The plan was good for all of 34 seconds.
That is how much time had passed before Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose international retirement should fool no-one into thinking he is about to go quietly from the domestic stage, belted in the first.
In the chaotic 94 minutes that followed two players were sent off, one of them Van Nistelrooy, and two more Real goals were harshly ruled out. The home side somehow scrambled themselves level only to manage half a minute from the end what they had done half minute from the start and gift Real a goal.
Off the pitch the Madrid police, criticised by Uefa for their role in the problems during the match against Marseilles earlier this month, successfully dealt with 200 visiting Real fans. Uefa would have been impressed, although not by the 10 metre-long banner unfurled at the Atletico end just before half-time paying homage to recently deceased extreme right-wing Austrian politician Jörg Haider.
For Atletico the defeat has them sliding towards mid-table obscurity. Perhaps more worryingly for Aguirre it also leaves them with central defender Tomas Ujfalusi struggling to be fit for the visit of Liverpool with a thigh strain. Another concern will be striker Sergio Agüero, who was notably running on empty after another energy-sapping 90 minutes at the end of a week in which he returned from international duty with Argentina in desperate need of a rest.
"Liverpool are coming here on a very strong run of form" admitted Aguirre afterwards. Atletico in contrast are in freefall and can only be thankful old boy Fernando Torres will not be unleashed on their defence.
Van Nistelrooy was allowed to turn and shoot unattended to score Real's first goal. He and Raul then both had goals ruled out for offside and Wesley Sneijder hit the bar.
Atletico threatened through Agüero but were reduced to 10 men when Luis Perea was sent off for a flailing arm in the face of Sneijder. From then on it looked like being another damage-limitation exercise.
But having feasted on one of La Liga's specialities – Atletico's defensive frailty – Van Nistelrooy then fell foul of another: nonsensical refereeing. His trip on Maniche was worthy of a yellow card at most but referee Carlos Gomez seized the opportunity to level the playing numbers and showed red.
Atletico were out for the second half several minutes before the restart and they almost levelled with their first attack through Ever Banega.
Portugal winger Simao was brought on at half-time and caused problems down the left while Agüero was a constant threat down the right. Things only broke down when either man tried to play in a rusty looking Diego Forlan.
The pace was furious and the referee needed to be treated for cramp with half an hour still left on his watch. Atletico seemed to enjoy the anarchy that the sendings off had imposed on proceedings and finally found the equaliser. Ramos clumsily conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box and Simao flipped it over the wall and inside Iker Casillas' right-hand post.
Atletico, who have not beaten Real at home in nine years, celebrated as if they had just scored the winner. But that privilege fell to the visitors. Deep in added time John Heitinga upended substitute Royston Drenthe and Gonzalo Higuain slotted in the penalty. "The referee was the only reason we didn't win 5-1" Bernd Schuster, the Real coach, said.
Aguirre meanwhile could be forgiven for not knowing what day it was. "We have to lift our heads for Tuesday," said the coach about Wednesday's Champions League game. "Two weeks ago we conceded inside three minutes, this week it was just one minute. It's a cause for concern."
Goals: Van Nistelrooy (1) 0-1; Simao (89) 1-1; Higuain (90) 1-2.
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Franco; Perea, Heitinga, Ujfalusi (Luis Garcia, 70); Pernia (Simao, h-t), R Garcia (A Lopez, 37), Assuncao, Maniche, Banega; Forlan, Aguero
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Casillas; Ramos, Cannavaro, Pepe, Marcelo; De La Red (Javi Garcia, 77), Gago, Sneijder (Van der Vaart, 67); Higuain, Van Nistelrooy, Raul (Drenthe, 84)
Booked: Atletico Madrid Perea, R Garcia, Assuncao, Simao; Real Madrid Ramos J Garcia.
Sent off: Atletico Madrid Perea (30); Real Madrid Van Nistelrooy (39)
Referee: C Gomez.Reuse content