After a frustrating draw against Málaga last weekend, Zinedine Zidane faces his biggest challenge yet as Madrid coach. Once seen as a straightforward affair for many Madridistas, now the infamous banner held at the Bernabéu reading "Wanted: a decent opponent for a worthy derby" no longer holds true.
At the time, Real Madrid had gone 14 years without losing to Atlético de Madrid – home and away. Jokes were made from left to right. "The last time Atléti beat Real Madrid Varane was just learning how to read." Now however, nearly three years have passed since Los Blancos managed to capture all three points against Los Rojiblancos in a league Derbi madrileño – in fact, Diego Simeone’s men are undefeated since Madrid’s last league win against their rivals in April 27, 2013, winning three matches and drawing two in the Spanish capital.
Already nine points behind La Liga leaders and reigning champions FC Barcelona with merely 13 games to go – a feat no team has ever overcome in La Liga – it is fair to say that Zidane’s men are no longer fighting for the title. That being said, Madrid are currently experiencing their longest run without a derby win against Atlético in history, and will be keen on putting that record to bed.
Atlético, who sit one point ahead of Real Madrid in the league table, and with an astonishing defensive record, will be calm and confident going into Saturday’s game. Oliver Torres acknowledged that "it is a special game. We know how important the match is and will give our all." Having conceded only 11 goals in 25 league matches, Atléti’s seemingly impenetrable back line will nevertheless be tested against La Liga’s highest-scoring team (71 goals in 25 matches). Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid’s top scorer with 22 league goals to his name, remains optimistic. "I hope that it will be a great game on Saturday and that Real Madrid can win."
Without Gareth Bale and Pepe, Zidane will be hopeful that Benzema and Marcelo return to the squad fully fit. Benzema, who has arguably been Madrid’s best player this season alongside Luka Modrić, is a key piece in Zidane’s Madrid puzzle, and one which must shine on Saturday afternoon should Real Madrid hope to record a win over Los Colchoneros. While Madrid’s attack remains the most prolific in the league, they have scored only one goal in their matches against the other sides of the top four. It was none other than the Frenchman who managed to secure one point for Madrid in the 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderón last October. More worryingly, Madrid have conceded 6 goals in their top four meetings, and have won none of them.
On a more positive note for Madridistas, Atlético boast a relatively meager attack, with neither Atléti-legend Fernando Torres nor Luciano Vietto looking sharp. Additionally, and perhaps Atlético’s brightest player, Antoine Griezmann, seems to struggle against quality opposition, having scored only once against Los Blancos in their last five outings. Moreover, the Frenchman’s recent drop in form is reflected in his last five league matches, where he has failed to score in any of them. Atléti’s lack of goal-scoring prowess will surely be a cause for concern for Simeone.
With the Bernabéu sold out and with Guti’s recent "I can't think of anyone who could play for Real Madrid" comment on Atléti, expect this Saturday’s showdown to be an intense, albeit low-scoring affair. Once again, each side fights for the right to call Madrid their city.
Atlético de Madrid possible lineup: Oblak; Juanfran, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Koke, Gabi, Augusto, Saul; Griezmann, Torres
Real Madrid possible lineup: Navas, Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Carvajal; Modric, Kroos, Isco; Ronaldo, Benzema, James
Head to Head:
- 04/10/15 - Atlético de Madrid 1 – 1 Real Madrid (La Liga)
- 22/04/15 - Real Madrid 1 – 0 Atlético de Madrid (UCL)
- 14/04/15 - Atlético de Madrid 0 – 0 Real Madrid (UCL)
- 07/02/15 - Atlético de Madrid 4 – 0 Real Madrid (La Liga)
- 15/01/15 - Real Madrid 2 – 2 Atlético de Madrid (CDR)
Managing Madrid staff predictions:
- Kevin: Real Madrid 1 – 1 Atlético de Madrid
- Om: Real Madrid 1 – 1 Atlético de Madrid
- Nate: Real Madrid 3 – 1 Atlético de Madrid
- Mike: Real Madrid 1 – 0 Atlético de Madrid
- Lucas: Real Madrid 2 – 1 Atlético de Madrid
- Kiyan: Real Madrid 3 – 0 Atlético de Madrid
- Andrejs: Real Madrid 2 – 0 Atlético de Madrid