Real Madrid have played Atlético Madrid six times this season with six different lineups, and failed to win each time. Now the stakes are at their highest, and on Tuesday, Atléti will see yet another new lineup from Real.
#RealMadrid starting lineup for tomorrow's Derby: Casillas, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, James, Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.— Lucas Navarrete (@LucasNavarreteM) April 13, 2015
What we know we know
Real won't change who they are. In the previous six meetings against Atléti this season Real have held 73, 70, 63, 61, 63, and 55 percent possession. Look for Real to hold the majority of the ball again, cautiously gunning down the wings. It's difficult to properly gauge Real Madrid's tactics in the previous games given they were in an early hole in nearly every meeting, but Real will almost certainly poke and prod at Siqueira and Juanfran.
Thanks to the visual from Zonal Marking, you'll see Atléti don't stagger their midfielders. All of their outfield players can mark, tackle, and don't sacrifice their form. Atléti's strength in defense is their density. In Real's most recent loss at the Calderón Mandzukic, Gabi, and Turan were the leading tacklers for Atléti -- all midfielders or forwards. And since Atléti defend as a unit, Real will have to attack as a unit.
What Real can do differently
Well for starters, they'll be able to put James and Modrić on the field together, something they haven't been able to do against Atléti since September. Both James and Luka will help Madrid do what they love -- attack down the wings -- in different ways.
Since the international break, Ronaldo, James, and Marcelo have been linking up fantastically well, and it couldn't be coming at a better rime. James allows Ronaldo to move to the middle more freely, something he wasn't able to do much while getting service from Isco.
James' verticality and Ronaldo's general being-Ronaldo-ness should allow them to run more directly at Atléti and force them to make decisions.
In regards to Luka Modrić, well, he'll bring the central presence Toni Kroos and the rest of Madrid so horribly missed against Atléti recently. Here's where each team's midfielders were in the recent loss at the Calderón, per WhoScored.
Atléti's is on the left, Real's on the right. The rogue blob on the right side of Real's midfield is Sami Khedira, who was hapless in giving Bale support. And so Atléti overloaded the Ronaldo, Isco, and Coentrão on the left.
Luka's presence won't allow Atléti to do this again. Since he's been back he's just been doing Luka Modrić things like winning balls in the central midfield, dribbling past defenders, and hitting long passes to Bale and Ronaldo.
Atléti are unique in that they seem to invite teams to run down the wings, since they can basically pinch the ball back with a midfielder and full back. Recently, Real have played right into this. But with Modrić's central presence and the Ronaldo-James duo, Real should be better able to diversify the way they come at Atléti.
Dealing with Atléti's attack
Atléti are also unique in that they seem to really enjoy playing without the ball because they're so opportunistic on the counter and from set pieces. They've scored 12 goals against Real this season, and half (six) have come from a dead ball situation, be it a corner, penalty, or throw-in. Three of six their open-play goals came from crosses.
Just as Real are dedicated to the wings, Atléti are dedicated to set pieces and crosses. Their favorite forehead in Mario Mandzukic will play tomorrow, and Pepe and Ramos will have to deal with him.
Simeone doesn't come at you with anything overly fancy or complex. Real have only had their preferred back line of Marcelo-Pepe-Ramos-Carvajal twice against Atléti this season, and they've conceded three times in those games (in the other four games, Real's defense have leaked nine).
Real's defenders have been more plagued by mental lapses against Atléti than anything. They'll have to defend corners (I wrote briefly about how Simeone creates chances through corners here), clear their lines, and above everything, be organized from kickoff. That's about it. It's an unexciting preview, but Atléti make no bones about how they plan to find the net, and Real will have to be sound to keep from getting behind.
The good news for Real is Ancelotti finally has his favorite lineup in the Madrid Derby, and it's a lineup which may finally make Atléti play the way Real want them to, not vice versa.