Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but Sergio Ramos’ return might be most damaging to Atlético psychologically. Think of how much happiness he has denied Diego Simeone, how much despair he’s served to the squad, how many Surrender Cobras he’s induced among Atléti fans. When fans hear “that Sergio Ramos goal in the final against Atléti,” they’re not sure which goal is being referred to. Madrid’s captain has twice ripped out Atléti’s heart with football’s most challenging trophy on the line, and now he’s back just in time for the latest Madrid Derby.
But how much of an impact on the pitch Ramos has will likely determine whether Real drop points or not.
Real have kept a clean sheet in only three of 11 La Liga games this season (curiously, two of them have come on the road), and have held their opponent scoreless without Ramos just once. A slew of injuries, including a recovery for Keylor Navas, has made for a Real Madrid defense that’s been less than the sum of its parts in 2016.
Meanwhile Atlético have found their groove in the attacking third after a slow start to the season. Antoine Griezmann has rocketed into third in the scoring standings, and though he may not be fit for the derby this weekend, and they were held scoreless against La Real, the Atléti attack has shown signs of life and isn’t to be taken lightly.
Real haven’t leaked goals for lack of defensive ability; they’ve leaked goals due to poor organization. Like when they left two forwards unmarked against Eibar, or when they failed to close down against Las Palmas, or when they got caught ball-watching repeatedly against Legia Warsaw. Having so many injuries doesn’t help, but this is a relatively steady group of players who haven’t been playing like they have as much experience alongside each other as they do. Which brings us back to Ramos.
With their talisman back, Real Madrid will lean on Sergio Ramos to keep the defense organized. This means barking orders at the other defenders, closing down incoming Griezmann runs, and not simply booting the ball up field when they win it back. Atléti have conceded as many goals at home as they have on the road, but they’ve scored 18 of their 25 goals in the Calderón. Simeone’s team is built to defend leads: they’ve conceded a lead only twice this season. If history is any indicator, and I think it is, Real will have limited chances to score in this match, so they’ll have to play this game from the back. Objective number one will be to keep a clean sheet, objective two will be to nick a lead.
A draw this weekend wouldn’t be a disaster, but a win would put Atléti nine points back of the top spot. If Real want to effectively sink Atlético’s title hopes, Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, Marcelo, and Dani Carvajal will have to play like the Four Horsemen of the Apocoalypse, with Mr. 92:48 riding the pale horse.