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Atlético vs Real Madrid: Seventh time lucky for Los Blancos?

The pair face off in the Champions League quarter-finals beside the Manzanares river on Tuesday night and Madrid will look to make it seventh time lucky.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

What a difference a day makes. May 18, 2013 to be exact. Atletico Madrid had suffered 25 years without tasting derby delight against Real Madrid but Miranda's extra-time goal ensured an historic night at the Santiago Bernabeu as a 2-1 Copa del Rey victory ended their years of torment and gave them one night, at least, of joy.

Many thought that would be a flash in the pan and normal service would resume but Diego Simeone has transformed Atleti. He has transformed them as a team and as a club but he has transformed them on derby day. Their fans no longer expect defeat against their capital rivals but they expect a fight.

That fight has seen them turn the tables on their more illustrious neighbours - and in emphatic fashion. That cup joy was not a flash in the pan and their crushing Champions League final derby defeat last season did not bring them crashing back to to earth. It only made them stronger. Atleti have faced Madrid six times already this season and they are yet to lose. They are the first team ever to face Madrid six times in a season and not lose. They did it to Barcelona last season but drew five of them - one of those being enough to see them clinch the title.

Now it's Madrid who are looking to overturn what has been a torrid time on derby day. If a Spanish Super Cup loss and a consecutive league loss was not enough, a Copa del Rey exit and 4-0 thumping at the Calderon on the turn of the year cemented Atleti's dominance in head-to-heads. Simeone has had Carlo Ancelotti's number and Atleti fans have held the bragging rights.

The pair face off in the Champions League quarter-finals beside the Manzanares river on Tuesday night and Madrid will look to make it seventh time lucky. Given progression is key over two-legs a stalemate would not be the end of the world but Madrid will make the short trip south looking to win and take the advantage back to the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday.

Atleti's success against Madrid has not been a secret but that has only served to make it more impressive. Simeone bases his side on defensive solidarity, organisation and passion with counter-attacks and set-pieces their biggest attacking threat. Ancelotti has faced Simeone on eleven occasions in just two seasons but he has managed only 3 victories in all competitions. One of those may have been the most important in last season's Champions League final but his record is not a good one.

While then 4-0 drubbing at the Calderon can be seen as somewhat of an anomaly, given the players Madrid were missing, there can be no denying that Atleti have outshone Madrid in the last two years. They have out-battled Madrid, too, and that aspect of this European double-header will be crucial.

Both sides will line-up as expected, with Atleti going 4-4-2 and Ancelotti sticking stubbornly to his 4-3-3 that has come up short this season. There should be few, if any, surprises in both starting elevens and with both squads being at full-strength, it will be a full on battle of tactics, attitude and work-rate.

That 4-3-3 has been caught short and outnumbered in the crucial midfield battle in recent meetings. While Atleti may not be a team to dominate the ball in the middle of the park like Barcelona, they exploit spaces, especially on the break, and have enjoyed have extra men in crucial areas of the pitch. Madrid need to thwart that space and extra bodies and Gareth Bale's tracking back without the ball will be key.

The Welshman's instructions have been well documented in the past. With the ball, he has licence to roam free in attack but without it he's expected to push back into a midfield four, which on Tuesday night is expected to be alongside Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez. Bale has succeeded in that role before but not enough. He needs to put in the hard yards at the Calderon.

Defensive responsibility should not fall solely on the shoulders of Bale from Madrid's attack, however. Karim Benzema has done a good job of helping out defensively but Cristiano Ronaldo, usually exempt from pitching it, needs to lend a helping hand, too. Simeone's side has been built to perform as a team rather than a set of individuals and Madrid need to produce much the same if they are to succeed.

The European champions also need to match the discipline and organisation of their hosts if they are to come out on top. That means no spaces between the lines and a well-oiled system of players plugging the gaps left by others. That means players such as James, Bale, Kroos and Modric filling in for full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal when they get forward. It means Kroos or Modric taking Sergio Ramos's man if and when he finds himself out of position.

Discipline will be important, too. Simeone has mastered the art of an aggressive game without his players crossing the line on too many occasions but that has slipped more than usual this term, notably in the 3-2 home defeat against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. Atleti have gotten under the skin of Madrid's players in the past and a cool head will be required. Ancelotti blasted his side's attitude after the 4-0 humbling in the league and that will be key on Tuesday.

Atleti have based their success on defence, especially against Madrid. Ancelotti's men have failed to find the back of the net in three matches at the Calderon this season and they managed just one shot on target in that 4-0 defeat. That does not mean Jan Oblak's goal cannot be got at, however. Madrid have an all-star cast available in attack, the envy of world football, and although the collective is crucial, Madrid have the personnel well capable of producing a moment of magic to win the game.

That include set-pieces. Another of Atleti's trademarks under Simeone it may be, in both defending them and attacking them, Madrid are more than capable of doing damage from them. Barcelona did in the cup game and Sergio Ramos, of course, did so in Lisbon. With Pepe set to join Ramos at the heart of the defence, as well as the potent ability of Ronaldo with his head, the set-piece qualities of Kroos, Modric and James could cause Atleti plenty of problems at the back.

While the collective is key, Luka Modric's mobility in the middle cannot be overlooked. It was perhaps no coincidence that Madrid suffered their heavy Calderon league loss with the Croatian missing and Simeone made mention of the former Tottenham Hotspur man's role in his pre-match press conference. Koke and Tiago in particular will be crucial for Atleti in the middle and Modric will be the man charged with keeping a lid on their creativity.

Seven is a lucky number but Madrid will need more than their fair slice of luck to end their six-game winless run with a victory at the seventh attempt. The advantage is that their foe is well known and Ancelotti is back with his full complement of players. Success as a collective as well as some individual brilliance will be needed if Madrid are to overcome their derby day woes, while organisation, discipline and determination needs to be thrown into the pot to keep alive the chances of becoming the first side to successfully defend the Champions League.

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