With the Champions League semi-final clash against Atletico Madrid just a stone’s throw away, it’s time to engage with our enemy, Into The Calderon — whom we always enjoy bantering with. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out Churros y Tácticas episode #2, where I was joined by Jeremy Beren (@JBBeren) and Robbie Dunne (@RobbieJDunne) to discuss the Derbi. The three of us will be recording another episode next Monday to recap the first leg and preview the second leg — gloves off.
Kiyan Interrogates The Enemy
Kiyan: Robbie you are a polarizing figure at Managing Madrid. Tell us all of your spicy hot takes. For starters, how confident are you heading into this tie?
Robbie: How can I be confident? I have seen Real Madrid play on a weekly basis and every single time they find a way to win. I'm not using reverse psychology or any mind games here. I have believed Real Madrid would lose and have deserved to lose so many times this season and still find a way to win. I'm not confident at all and I think any Atletico Madrid fan that is, suffers from amnesia or has the not-oft found, surplus optimism disorder, that some fans tend to suffer from before being landed back down to earth.
Kiyan: Atletico are weird, man. First Greizmann was talking about avoiding relegation, then they started blitzing everyone, then slumped (which Real Madrid pounced on in the first Derbi), and now it looks like they've regained their identity and strength. Though, it's still not clear which version of Atletico we'll see. Two games ago they lost to Villarreal at home, and this weekend they smoked Las Palmas into oblivion. Which Atletico will show up on Tuesday?
Robbie: I think we will see the tried and tested Atletico that Diego Simeone and many of the players seem most comfortable with. I couldn't agree more about Atletico in the middle of the season. They were slightly more exciting but that excitement starts to get boring when they are losing every week and on the brink of conceding three in every game. Real Sociedad hammered them around that time, as did Villarreal. The good thing about seeing them like this, especially after that Villarreal wake-up call, is that we know it will be close and really, given Real's talent, that is all you can do. Keep it close, try to snatch an away goal and hope for the best.
Kiyan: Would you rather face Real Madrid over two legs, or in a final?
Robbie: Definitely over two legs. This is not based solely on the last two finals but it gives Atletico the chance to grab an away goal and it also gives Atletico the chance to turn it into a real attritional affair. But the problem with this is, you can't defend deep for this long without giving up something and the longer it goes on, the more subs (like Asensio and the like) come on.
During Ancelotti's spell, bring it on. But under Zidane? I'd prefer to play Las Palmas every week. It's the same with Barcelona under Luis Enrique. Simeone needs to get a win over one of these guys just for the psychological impact it would have for the players and the club as a whole.
Kiyan: You and I had a lengthy chat after the last Derbi. I don't think you were that impressed from the game as a whole. What would you like Atletico to do differently?
Robbie: Well, obviously Koke in the middle didn't work. We have brushed over the fact that it didn't work and it will be reassessed again in the summer but that worries me greatly, and how it will affect his development. I remember going into that game and Isco just ran the show. He was really good and has been in recent weeks too and is the perfect player to unlock Atletico as he has quicker feet than Michael Flatley.
Simeone seemed to have his team locked down since then, interchanging Torres and Gameiro, but the injury to Carrasco could really hurt. I would like to see Atletico, as I've said, shut it down in the middle and just get the win. It's really not about glamour at this point of the Champions League nor is it about their rivalry with Real Madrid. I would just hate for Simeone's era in charge to be remembered by getting knocked out by Real Madrid four years straight. They are the only team to have beaten Atletico in the Champions League elimination stage and they just need to find a way to win or face, maybe not ignominy, but a weird legacy at the club. The little team that tried... But never could.
Kiyan: I know you're not fond of the BBC. As an Atletico fan, do you wish Bale was in the lineup for this one?
Robbie: This current version of Bale, yes. But saying I wish Bale was in the lineup and then seeing the world-beating one show up makes you look silly. I think there is genuine concern that he might be on the brink at Real Madrid. He just doesn't seem to fit at the club. I think his acclimatization to life in Spain, or lack thereof, is well documented, and you never get the sense that he is thoroughly enjoying himself.
They don't have to be best friends either obviously, but there is a disconnect growing there with the BBC. With the likes of Morata and James in particular, and then when you throw in Asensio and Vazquez, you get the sense that they are all fighting for their lives together and in unison and that makes them far more dangerous. Their movement and dynamism is something to savour and I know this because you have to watch back some of their goals three and four times to see who moved where and when. It speaks to the speed at which they play.
Kiyan: Give me your take on the right back situation. How will it affect you, you know, not having a pure right back to play with.
Robbie: Honestly, this might sound weird but it doesn't bother me as much as it does not having Carrasco. Okay, you have zero right-backs and it's not great but I feel like Simeone will find a way to protect that position using Koke as a shield and we were never really relying that much on that side of the field to be creative. It will certainly negate the chance of anything coming from there now but that's okay. The issue I have is with Carrasco and his replacement. Gaitan has not convinced at all and in a game that will be played strictly in counter-attack mode, Carrasco was going to be key. The right-back situation? That, I think, can be managed.
Kiyan: Call it fam.
Robbie: Why did you have to throw this in here? I hate Atletico and Real Madrid predictions. Let's say 1-1 in the Bernabeu and 0-0 at the Calderon meaning Atletico go through on away goals. I am not confident. A big event could change it completely like a Casemiro red card or something, but Atletico will need to bring a little heat in the middle if that is to happen. This one, over 180 minutes and more, is going to have more twists than a French braid.
The Enemy Interrogates Kiyan
Jeremy: We just can't get rid of y'all, can we, Kiyan? Here I was, hoping that the April 8 Derbi would be it for this season. But of course not. What was your immediate reaction when the draw was announced?
Kiyan: I'm with it. I had no interest in facing Juve's high octane approach; nor did I want to face Mbappe and Bernardo Silva on the counter-attack when our defensive transition has been suspect this season. I'd much rather a slow-paced humdrum that enables Modric and co. to build the ball and dictate possession while relying on some magic from Marcelo and Isco to unlock an incredibly great Atleti defensive scheme.
Jeremy: So, the league title race reopened after last week's Clásico. Heading into this tie, do you think there's a chance Real Madrid will be negatively impacted - tired, injured or otherwise - because of that loss to Messilona?
Kiyan: The Messi game-winner was an earth-shattering moment, but the team has had two games since to recover, and has won both. I don't think any remnants remain from El Clasico that would negatively affect the team. Real Madrid's response to that loss was always going to be more important than the loss itself -- and so far it's been good.
Jeremy: Why are some Madrid fans happy that Gareth Bale is out for both legs of the semifinal?
Kiyan: Because they have short term memory, and probably don't remember how badly he blitzed Atletico in the Derbi at the Calderon. Bale is a great player who fans don't have much patience with. In a way, it's understandable. At the same time, it's a testament to how bipolar Real Madrid fans are. I wrote about this specific issue here.
Jeremy: Since the last Derbi, a lot has been made of Zinedine Zidane's "Plan B" and how it may or may or may not be better than his "Plan A" gala XI. Can you provide an overview of that issue, and is "Plan B" really better than "Plan A"?
Kiyan: This is a very loaded question, and even though we've answered it in columns, articles, tweets, and podcasts -- people still have questions. The answer is really not that black and white. In the Depor post-match presser, Zidane said there is neither an 'A' or 'B' team -- just one team. He's not wrong. Somewhere, a hybrid line-up exists that takes the best of both line-ups and spawns something similar to what we saw in the Calderon earlier this season. You'd end up with a double-pivot of two of Modric/Kroos/Kovacic; then Isco down the middle just behind Ronaldo and Bale/Asensio/James on the flanks.
If you're into it, listen to this podcast Om and I did to explain this further. Essentially, the sooner Real Madrid recognize that Ronaldo can play up front on his own, the sooner an extra slot in the XI can be freed for Asensio/Isco/James to help pack the midfield.
Jeremy: I have this weird feeling that Marco Asensio is going to do something to rip out my heart. Can you explain to me why I have this feeling?
Kiyan: What you are feeling is very normal, especially if you had a chance to witness Asensio carving Deportivo or zipping past the corpse of Hummels. You should find comfort in the fact that defensively, you're maybe 300 billion times superior to Deportivo, and so long as you're not chasing shadows and fielding injured defenders, you won't be as vulnerable as Bayern was in extra time.
Jeremy: How confident are you that Madrid can keep a clean sheet Tuesday?
Kiyan: I think Real Madrid will concede in at least one of the games -- most likely both. On the flipside, it remains to be seen how detrimental that will be for them, because there hasn't been a single game this season where Zidane's men have failed to score. They give and take. Atletico will have clear-cut chances in both games, without question. As I've said already, the transition defense hasn't been as good as it was last season, and there will always be miscues when facing slow-building attacks (see Greizmann's late goal at the Bernabeu in April).
Jeremy: Real Madrid have vulnerabilities and occasionally glaring weaknesses that no one has been able to fully exploit yet. What do Atlético need to do in order to exploit said vulnerabilities?
Kiyan: I don't think it's so much about exploiting vulnerabilities, it's about preventing a team -- no matter how sluggish they are with regards to the eye test -- from scoring goals. Atletico will exploit Real Madrid, just as they did in the second half of April's Derbi. Their main problem will be that no matter how bad Real Madrid play, they have so much offensive firepower that they will find ways to score and win, over and over again. This is the Zidane era in a nutshell.
If we were to get into the nitty gritty, assuming Casemiro starts, Simeone should aim to hound him as he's not great escaping a press. They should also aim to get in his head, because lately he's a walking red card and has zero awareness of where he is in the referee's book. I'd normally add ‘attacking Real Madrid's left flank to keep Marcelo honest’, but we know that's not going to happen with Lucas Hernandez probably slotting in as a conservative right back.
Jeremy: Give me your first leg scoreline prediction, please.
Kiyan: 2-1. Just enough to keep the second leg extra spicy.