Atlético Madrid Vs. Real Madrid, La Liga 2012: Derby Day Preview

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 04: Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg match between Real Madrid and APOEL FC at Bernabeu on April 4, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

We all know that Atlético Madrid have not beaten their bitter crosstown rivals Real Madrid since 1999, a streak spanning 20 league matches and 22 matches overall. According to Opta, that is Atletico's longest streak of futility against any single opponent in their entire top-flight history.

But when I hear Diego and others talking about this derby I get a sense that they know a victory against los blancos at the Vicente Calderon tonight, with the title hanging in the balance, is an opportunity to essentially wipe the shame of the past 13 years away with one victory. It's an opportunity the Atleti appear eager to seize upon and I'm expecting an extremely hard-fought, emotional and hopefully beautiful match.

Atletico have won their last three home matches and their overall form has improved substantially since the appointment of ex-Atleti star Diego Simeone as manager in December. Simeone was 0-5 in the Madrid derby during his playing career, so the feisty Argentine, accustomed to the pressure and prestige of this fixture, will be desperate to deal his rivals title hopes a devastating blow by leading his team to a victory tonight.

Atleti come into the match shorthanded, though, as Antonio Lopez and Silvio Pereira are out due to injury and Eduardo Salvio, Miranda and Mario Suarez are on suspension, according to Yahoo Eurosport. The big question concerns the status of Atlético's dangerous striker Radamel Falcao. Some reports are labeling him as doubtful or questionable. Falcao was only fit enough to play 25 minutes as a substitute in Atletico's 2-0 loss to Levante, so his fitness and availability will be a crucial factor in determining the outcome of this match. I expect him to feature and play for at least 60 minutes.

On paper the sides favor similar 4-2-3-1 systems as a base, but as Lucas pointed out in his recent tactical analysis Real Madrid's actual formation on the pitch is actually much more fluid and dynamic. Sergio Ramos is due back from suspension, while Raul Albiol and Ricardo Carvalho are both reportedly unavailable for selection.

As always has unearthed a wealth of extremely interesting statistics, including the fact that Madrid's nil-nil draw with Valencia was the first time in 42 matches that los blancos failed to score. An interesting counterpoint to that number is the fact that Atlético have kept clean sheets in four of their last six league matches at the Calderon. The odds of Real Madrid's high-powered attacked being blanked twice in four days are exceedingly long, but the numbers do show that scoring against Atletico in their stadium has become increasingly difficult.

Speaking of Real Madrid's offensive output--Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema have combined to score 74 of the side's 100 league goals, a whopping 74 percent. I knew those guys all had gaudy goal-scoring numbers, but I didn't realize just how concentrated the squad's goal scoring actually was. I'm not necessarily saying it's bad, but it is striking. It makes me look at the speculation surrounding Higuain's future in a different light, that's for sure.

This is one of the most exciting days of the season. Tell us what's on your mind, Madridistas!

Hala Madrid!

Please be sure to like Managing Madrid on Facebook and keep up with all manner of Madrid-centric chatter on Twitter @managingmadrid. Also check for the Managing Madrid podcast which is available via iTunes.

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