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Atlético de Madrid vs Real Madrid, Champions League: Early preview

Los Blancos visit the Vicente Calderón to beat their neighbours and set a foot on the Champions League semifinals.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Just when their worst streak in the season seems gone, Los Blancos face their Nemesis in what is, arguably, their most important game so far. The Copa del Rey is no longer an option and, although it looks better now than it did yesterday, winning the league will be very difficult, so La Undécima is Real Madrid's clearest chance to visit Cibeles Square. Five games keep Ancelotti's men away from a new Champions League, and Atlético de Madrid will be their rival in the first couple of them.

With a depressing 0-2-4 record this season against the colchoneros, and with the recent memory of the tremendous 4-0 defeat in their last visit to the Vicente Calderón, Los Blancos will need to play with pride and, more importantly, far better than they have done so far against Atlético in order to move on to the semifinals. Carlo Ancelotti said yesterday that he has already made up his mind about the lineup and tactics for the first leg, and the players know what their duty will be.

Given that Pepe is fully recovered, we should expect Ancelotti's favourite lineup to feature in the Calderón, with James in the midfield and the BBC trio upfront, leaving Isco on the bench as a backup. Several reports in Spain indicate that Gareth Bale's physical condition is not optimal, but our coach claimed yesterday that he will be fine and he has taken part in today's training session, so it seems quite obvious that he will start.

Los Blancos get to the game with the right mood, just after earning three consecutive convincing victories and reducing Barcelona's advantage on the league table, while Atlético might be a little worried after only drawing against Málaga, what reduces their options in their fight for the third place in La Liga. However, Diego Simeone will for sure be able to make his players focus in their "partido a partido" philosophy and play against Real Madrid as if it were the last game in their lives.

Mario Mandzukic, who has missed the last couple of Atlético's games, trained with his partners this morning and will likely be a starter on Saturday, what will leave Fernando Torres on the bench. Raúl García, with a forearm injury, will be examined by the doctors tomorrow to determine whether he should play or not.

As usual, we must expect to watch a very tough and hardly fought game, and this may result in an endless stream of yellow cards that both teams should be careful with, as it could cause some bans for the second leg. Ansaldi, Gabi, Jesús Gámez, Mario Suárez and Fernando Torres, from Atlético de Madrid, and Coentrao, Marcelo and Kroos, from Real Madrid, are only a booking away from a suspension.

Perhaps talking about tactics now is pointless, as we know both teams well enough after six showdowns this season. As I see it, it will mostly be a matter of mentality, and Los Blancos need to prove that they deserve the World Champion badge they carry on their chest.

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