How good is your memory?
Can you remember your team’s last win over your rivals? Was it earlier this season? Perhaps it was last season? It was probably in the recent past so you will have a substantial recollection of the game, how it progressed and the all important winning goal.
For Atleti fans, it’s getting harder every season to recall their last win over rivals Real Madrid. In fact it was so long ago, parts of the story revolving around the game are becoming urban myth. Did it really actually happen? Did Atleti beat Real Madrid?
In fact, it was so long ago that Spain still used the peseta and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored on his way to winning the Pichichi.
It was 29 October 1999 when Atleti led their great rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, travelling to the Santiago Bernabeu with confidence and defeating their hosts 3-1. For Atleti fans ever since, that memory remains a moment of illumination in a dark season which concluded with Los Rojiblancos relegation to La Segunda.
Likely Line Ups
Certain parts of both teams should be relatively straightforward to predict.
Atleti have a range of options for the attacking trio who operate behind Falcao. Based upon recent form and potential to create problems for Madrid , I would expect Adrian and Arda to start on the wings. Centrally, Simeone has the option of using the technically gifted Koke or the more robust and physical Raul Garcia.
It should be the customary 4-2-3-1 formation for Atleti although Simeone has sometimes deviated from this using 4-4-2 against Sevilla last week. It would be highly surprising if El Cholo was that adventurous in this game.
Assuming a clean bill of health from last week’s games, Mourinho’s attention will be the central midfield area. Are Kaka and Modric ready to step up and perform in a game such as this or it a game to rely upon his tried and tested first choice eleven?
Based upon that assumption there is only like to be one change from the Madrid team that beat Atleti 4-1 in April. That night Kaka operated as the central player in the attacking trident behind Benzema. On Saturday, Mesut Ozil would be expected to start.
Assuming Madrid use that line up, it will be a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho’s side also.
La Liga on the Line?
There is always much at stake in a derby fixture but there is arguably more at stake in this El Derbi madrilèno than there has been for some time.
With Barcelona facing Athletic Club at home prior to the El Derbi madrilèno, Madrid could enter this game trailing the Catalans by 14points. Given the recent performances of Athletic Club, that is a very strong possibility.
In such circumstances, Madrid could not contemplate defeat whilst a win for Los Rojiblancos would be all the sweeter if it delivered a fatal blow to the defence of Madrid ’s crown. A draw would be the perfect result for Barcelona . Atleti would be 5 points adrift whilst Madrid would fall 13 points behind.
The El Cholo Factor
Diego “El Cholo” Simeone took charge of Atletico Madrid in December 2011. A former player on two separate occasions, Simeone immediately had the support of the fans even if his initial press conference was rather vague and provided more questions than it did answers. There was discussion on commitment and playing for the jersey. The critics that day have been answered emphatically. In his 51 competitive games as manager, Atleti have recorded 36 wins, 8 draws and 7 defeats. Simeone will go in search of his 37th win as Atleti manager in his 52nd game on Saturday evening.
Both sides are well known for their ability to punish opponents during quick transitions. Is there a better counter attacking team in world football than Real Madrid? Since being appointed as manager, Madrid has slowly evolved into a team that is much more comfortable on the ball, content to probe and construct play. On Saturday the onus will be on them to attack Atleti and seek the breakthrough. It’s a state of affairs which suits Atleti perfectly. Simeone has built a side that is happy to concede possession, defend in a compact unit and spring forward on quick attacks. It’s a very simple style yet can be devastatingly effective.
Atleti concede the fewest shots per game in La Liga. It’s a game plan based upon high workrate from all the team especially the central midfield pairing of Gabi and Mario combined with tackling, interceptions and quite a few fouls conceded along the way. Their positioning, discipline and support to the defence will be imperative if Atleti are to walk away with anything. Almost as important will be Atleti’s wingers who must provide support to their respective full backs. Juanfran must be given help on the right to combat Ronaldo.
From the Madrid perspective, they have toiled against teams that have sat back and defended deep against them this season. Betis last week was a perfect example. Madrid has the tools to defeat opponents but they have not used them correctly on occasion. Against Betis, the high tempo and game becoming stretched suited the home side. Los Blancos needed to slow the game down and work their opponents, seeking overloads opportunities. Instead, Ramos became an auxiliary striker at full time approached.
Atleti will try to frustrate Madrid . If it begins to succeed, Madrid must not panic and begin throwing men forward. If they do, Atleti have the ability to exploit gaps.
Can Atleti Learn?
Last season when Madrid went to the Vicente Calderon, hopes rather than expectation were high amongst Atleti fans that the elusive win could arrive. Atleti were performing well. And yet the end story has such a familiar feeling to it as Madrid walked off with a 4-1 victory.
Atleti competed well particularly in the middle of the park but as the game progressed, Adrian and Arda failed to provide the necessary support to Falcao. Both players were being pushed deeper by Madrid and the Columbian was increasingly isolated as a consequence. The aerial power of Falcao has been causing the Madrid defence problems but the inability to supply the frontman adequately removed that threat.
The withdrawal of Diego from the Atleti team has aided the transition to a more, direct team. There is less time spent dwelling on the ball from that side. The team moves at a greater pace now.
All important considerations which Simone will chew over before this game. A detailed analysis of that game, can be found here
Can Atleti beat their rivals this week and claim their first win since 1999? Despite Atleti’s amazing start to the season and their incredible record since El Cholo’s appointment last December, it’s difficult to envisage anything other than a Real Madrid win.
Yet on current form, surely Atleti must be considered the favourites?
A draw is a result which would produce only one winner, Barcelona . Yet a score draw is what I believe will be the outcome.
On Saturday evening, Atleti will once more make that short journey to the Santiago Bernabeu only this time expectation should outweigh hope substantially.