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Real Madrid are better prepared to avoid another Calderon collapse

Los Blancos suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of their neighbours eight months ago but Atletico Madrid will be a wary of facing a much-improved Madrid this weekend.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

It's fair to say Real Madrid no longer have it all their own way when it comes to El Derbi.

Not long ago, all Los Blancos seemingly had to do on derby day was turn up against Atletico Madrid for at least a share of the spoils - and more often-than-not all three.

Since Diego Simeone's arrival at the Vicente Calderon things have changed. Atleti enjoy derby day again and the Argentine has left smiles on faces of Los Rojiblancos fans going into work on a Monday morning after facing their bitter city rivals.

Madrid enjoyed a 25-match unbeaten run against the club from beside the Manzanares, stretching 14 years, but Simeone's arrival back to his stomping ground manage to change all that - to the frustration of Madridistas.

A 2-1 victory in extra-time of the Copa del Rey final back in 2013 - at the Santiago Bernabeu no less - ended that "curse" and instilled a confidence into the club that had been desperately missing. As requested by Madridistas, Los Blancos finally found a worth derby rival.

Since then derby day has been even. In 2013/14 Atleti won La Liga but Madrid won the Copa del Rey and the one that mattered - La Decima, beating Atleti dramatically in the final. Had it not been for Sergio Ramos' late arrival history would have been different.

Last season was the mammoth of all derby duels. Europe and domestic success for the dominant capital pair resulted in them going toe-to-toe no less than eight times. Atleti were now enjoying the kind of rivalry that was usually reserved for Barcelona. Not only that, but they frustrated Madrid - going unbeaten in six matches before Javier Hernandez finally saw Los Blancos through in a close-fought Champions League tie.

Atleti enjoyed four derby victories last season, including one to help them lift the Spanish Super Cup, while three matches ended in a draw and only one went the way of Madrid. Questions were asked throughout the season as to how Madrid couldn't beat their near neighbours and why they couldn't. Simeone had the edge over Carlo Ancelotti.

The low point of that six-match winless run for Madridistas came at the Calderon on Saturday, February 7. Atleti triumphed 4-0 against an injury-hit Madrid side and while the result was bad enough for the white side of the Spanish capital, Cristiana Ronaldo's badly-timed birthday party made matters worse. It was a day to quickly forget for those at the Santiago Bernabeu - not even key injuries could save face.

Almost eight months on and Madrid return to the Calderon this Sunday renewed and refreshed ahead of their first huge test of the campaign. Things can only get better, right?

Los Blancos' defence surely can. On that day the back four was Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Nacho Fernandez and Fabio Coentrao with Iker Casillas in goal. This time Keylor Navas will take his place in goal while Marcelo will start at left-back, Carvajal at right-back, and ever-improving Varane in the centre and captain Sergio Ramos is fighting to be fit alongside him. If not, Nacho will continue to plug the gap.

Nacho and Varane endured a nightmare back in February but they were not helped by the absence of the hard-working Luka Modric ahead of them. Toni Kroos was also far from his best and his tired legs from a hectic 2014 were evident. The pair should not suffer such a catastrophe this weekend.

On top of personnel, the arrival of Rafa Benitez may not have been to everyone's taste but the Madrid-born coach has shored up his side's defence. Madrid have never been a side known for their defensive strength, more their attacking flair, but this season Los Blancos have the best defensive record in the entire division so far with just one goal conceded in the traditionally tough arena of San Mames. That record has come with injuries to Ramos, Pepe and Danilo already.

Those defensive improvements coincide with Atleti's struggles to fully click in attack. Antoine Griezmann continues to shine for Simeone's men but Jackson Martinez has so far failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps that will make him even keener to find the back of the net on Sunday night.

The tactical adaptability of Benitez should also work in Madrid's favour. Last season, and perhaps the season before, Ancelotti stuck firmly to his guns in his approach to derby matches and that courted criticism. This season Benitez will offer something different and will tinker with his tactics throughout the match to counter his opposite number. Rafa will be ready for the challenge of facing ‘El Cholo'.

Momentum will not be with Atleti this weekend, contrary to the previous 12 months. Benfica travelled to the Calderon to ‘out-Atleti' Atleti in the Champions League in midweek and left with a surprise three points. That provided a second consecutive defeat for Los Colchoneros, leaving confidence far from sky high in the red and white camp.

Madrid face arguably their second toughest match of the season on paper, away to Atletico, but they are better suited to leave with all three points this season than they were last.

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