Helping me set up this weekend’s Derby is Jeremy Beren of IntoTheCalderon. Later today, I will be answering questions over on their site, so make sure to look out for that. They’ll also be doing a post-game show on Sunday on their podcast, Colchonero Chat.
1. How would you describe Atletico’s season —what’s changed vs last year?
What’s changed is Atlético are 10 points off the top this time and unlikely to retain the title!
On a more serious note, the club failed to address issues with the balance in the squad, and it’s seen the regression and defensive struggles that crept into Atleti’s play last spring snowball and cost the team lots of points. Jan Oblak has been out of form, while injuries and suspensions have left Simeone’s back line more vulnerable than ever.
Atlético have more attacking options this season to compensate for Luis Suárez growing a year older, and it’s true that without Antoine Griezmann, the colchoneros would not have escaped the Champions League group stage. But one reason they were in that position in the first place is a defense performing below standard.
2. Is Diego Simeone recruiting the right players for his philosophy and systems?
That’s a good question. I think the answer is a resounding “not really,” in part because there isn’t a clear idea as to how Atlético want to play or are going to play. The two systems they’ve vacillated between this season — the 3-5-2 and the 4-4-2/4-3-3 — require different players, especially defenders who are comfortable on the ball and can begin attacks.
Rodrigo De Paul and Matheus Cunha are looking more and more like Simeone-type players, and Griezmann was a direct request from the coach. I’d say all three players are doing well at the moment. But Atleti are suffering in midfield due to the squad imbalance and a lack of options — other than perhaps Geoffrey Kondogbia, there is no defensive-minded pivot to break up opposing attacks and cover for Koke or Thomas Lemar. No one was recruited to provide competition in that part of the pitch, and Koke — one of the club’s most important players in the past decade — is trudging through a poor season in part because the correct player profile wasn’t found.
3. Which Real Madrid player strikes fear in Atleti supporters hearts?
Casemiro, at least for me. He has stepped up in this fixture in recent years, scoring a couple goals and generally being a nuisance.
4. What should Real Madrid be most worried about heading into El Derbi?
Cunha’s runs in behind the defense. The Brazilian is set to start and is the only forward in Atleti’s squad who routinely stretches the play vertically. He’s fast, agile, athletic, and a pretty good finisher. I think he could create a ton of problems off his movement alone.
I’m going with a high-scoring draw, 2-2