Captain Iker Casillas was brutally honest in his analysis of Saturday's derby:
"That is how the calendar has worked out, we have to also think about the derby, it is 14 years since we lost. They are going to want to beat us and cut our points advantage. A trial run of the Cup final? Maybe, but I do not think it will show much. What is certain is that our heads are more on Tuesday's match."
Fans will agree that Real's recent history of playing prominent domestic rivals like Barcelona and Atlético Madrid so close to Champions League games is unfortunate, and, frankly, frustrating. While the stakes of Saturday's match pale in comparison to the stakes of Tuesday's clash, Real Madrid needs to win to maintain its second place standing and fourteen-year win streak over Atlético.
Diego Simeone's team currently has 68 points to Real Madrid's 71. Simeone has talented players at his disposal that could create some problems for Madrid's defenders. Falcao has an impressive 25 goals in 29 games, and fellow forward Diego Costa has had his suspension lifted after a committee decided his booking against Sevilla was unjust. Atlético Madrid will host the Whites at the Vicente Calderón, and they appear to be a team fully behind their manager. Atleti's midfielder Koke had this to say about his coach:
"When he arrived our morale was low, but he gave us hope and a desire to fight for this shirt and win. He's a natural winner."
It won't be an easy match for Real Madrid, especially since some first-team regulars will be rested in preparation for the Champions League match. Last week, Marcelo, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema left the Bernabeu with mild to moderate injuries, so Mourinho must field a team that minimizes risk but can still compete with Real's cross-town rivals.
Mourinho will not be able to count on talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo picked up a muscular knock on Wednesday and trained apart from his teammates at Valdebebas on Friday. Aitor Karanka hopes Cristiano will be ready for Tuesday's game but has effectively ruled him out for the upcoming Derby. Joining Cristiano on the injured-list are fullbacks Álvaro Arbeloa and Marcelo. While Modric was called up for the game, he did not train with his teammates on Friday.
Predicting a line-up under the circumstances is rather challenging, so let's start with the players Jose Mourinho has called up for the clash:
Goalkeepers: Casillas, Diego López and Adán.
Defenders: Varane, Pepe, Albiol, Carvalho and Nacho.
Midfielders: Xabi Alonso, Essien, Khedira, Özil, Di María, Modric, Callejón and Kaká.
Forwards: Higuaín, Benzema and Morata.
Based on Aitor Karanka's declaration that "Diego López was the best in Germany," I expect to see the former Sevilla man start in goal. Michael Essien is back on the team sheet and could start at right-back next to center-backs Pepe and Raul Albiol. Pepe was below par on Wednesday but could use this game to regain some confidence and composure ahead of the Champions League. While Carvalho has been a Mourinho "go-to" in the past, his most recent appearances have been laden with mistakes which leads me to favor Raul Albiol for the starting berth. Since no true left-backs were called up, I believe Mourinho will let youngster Nacho have a go at the fullback role.
If Luka Modric is fit, I expect the Croatian international to start alongside Sami Khedira to give Xabi Alonso some much-needed rest. Kaká may get the nod ahead of Özil as he sometimes does in La Liga, and with Cristiano's absence, we could see Di María return to his natural left wing while Callejón covers the right.
I believe Benzema will start on Tuesday against Dortmund, so for this reason I expect Pipita Higuaín to start tomorrow's derby until Alvaro Morata replaces him early in the second half. But as we've seen all season long, trying to predict who starts at center forward is often an exercise in futility.
Managing Madrid, who do you think will start tomorrow's Derby?
Real Madrid will face Atlético Madrid Saturday, April 27th at 20:00 CET/ 2:00 pm EST/ 11:00 am PST.