Real Madrid may have appointed a new coach and a new director of football but no matter what changes they have made to the back-room staff, it is still Ronaldo, the former World Player of the Year, and the local-born goalkeeper Iker Casillas who run the show at the club.
Ronaldo showed just why he is still rated as the most devastating finisher in the game when he scored a clinical double from two of Real's three chances in the game, while Casillas proved that he is more valuable than many of the club's imported galacticos by producing a string of brilliant last-ditch saves to stop a dominant Atletico from scoring a goal.
The former Atletico player Santiago Solari added to a frustrating night for the home side. He slotted home the second goal nine minutes from time as Real returned to second place in La Liga. Barcelona's lead at the top was cut to seven points with the Catalan side suffering a 3-0 defeat at Villareal later in the evening, the former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan scoring two of their goals.
In the absence of his usual partner, Guti, who was forced to withdraw at the last minute because of a stomach bug, David Beckham played alongside Zinedine Zidane in the centre of midfield, but the England captain had another anonymous game for his team while Michael Owen was only given a run-out in the final two minutes.
Roared on by a capacity 54,000 crowd Atletico made an impressive start and Real almost conceded a goal in the first minute when Ivan Helguera went close to putting the ball in his net after he wrong-footed keeper Iker Casillas with a back-pass, but his fellow centre-back, Francisco Pavon scrambled the ball off the line.
Helguera was then caught out by Fernando Torres on the edge of the area in the very next attack, but Casillas stood up well to produce a top-class block to stop the striker's sharp shot. Real managed to weather the early Atletico storm and delivered a sucker punch when they took the lead following their first foray into the opposition half. Roberto Carlos charged down the left flank to latch on to a long ball out of midfield and clipped the ball back across the area. Zinedine Zidane wrong-footed the Atletico defence when he miscued an attempted shot and the ball fell to Ronaldo who picked his spot and placed the ball high into the top corner.
Atletico refused to fold, however, and took control of the game as they muscled Beckham and Zidane off the ball in midfield. The Argentinian playmaker Ariel Ibagaza skimmed the bar with a delicate lob after he had checked past two defenders on the edge of the area on the half hour and Torres sent a deflected shot spinning past the post a minute later.
Casillas snatched the ball from the feet of Salva Ballesta as he looked certain to score from four yards out and Real were let off the hook when Torres sliced over the bar after he had picked up a rebound two minutes before the break. But there was still time for the Spain goalkeeper to produce two more brilliant saves as he beat away yet another Salva shot and Torres' point-blank follow-up.
Real stretched their lead when Solari latched on to a Raul through-ball to round keeper Leo Franco and guide home into the open net, nine minutes from the end. Ronaldo compounded Atletico's misery with another top-drawer finish two minutes later when he drilled through Franco's legs after a great ball from Zidane.
Goals: Ronaldo (14) 0-1; Solari (81) 0-2; Ronaldo (83) 0-3.
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Franco; Aguilera (Molinero, 46), Perea, Ibañez, Lopez; Ibagaza, Sosa, Luccin (Nano, 77), Gronjkaer; Torres, Salva (Paunovic, 68). Substitutes not used: Cuellar (gk), Garcia Calvo, Jorge, Braulio.
Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pavon, Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Figo (Celades, 85), Beckham, Zidane (Owen, 88), Solari; Raul, Ronaldo (Morientes, 85). Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Bravo, Mejia, Garcia.
Referee: A Perez Burrull.
Man of the match: Casillas.