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Q&A With The Enemy: Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid, La Liga 2021

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Chatting with Jeremy Beren of ‘Into The Calderon’ ahead of the second La Liga derby of the season

(SP)SPAIN-MADRID-FOOTBALL-SPANISH LEAGUE-REAL MADRID VS ATLETICO Xinhua/Edward F. Peters via Getty Images

The business end of the season is upon us and the big games are fast approaching. Next up is Atletico Madrid at the Wanda for what could decide Real Madrid’s fate in the La Liga title race. A loss could put Real Madrid too far out of the race to compete with Barcelona and Atleti. Though, a win could blow the race wide open with all three teams living on a knife’s edge. Ahead of the decisive derby, we sat down with Jeremy Beren of Into the Calderon to discuss the upcoming game:

Matt: Were you disappointed in Atleti’s approach in the last derby? What do you think Simeone should do differently from a tactical standpoint?

Jeremy: I was immensely disappointed, Matt. The lack of a cohesive structure or tactical plan in the December derby ceded all the initiative to Real Madrid, who were superior defensively and won with relative ease. However, Atlético bounced back right after that, reeling off another winning streak and growing more comfortable switching between the new 3-5-2 and the old 4-4-2.

Now armed with just about a fully healthy squad, Simeone should look to utilize that 3-5-2 and have Atlético play with an attacking mindset. This means more flowing buildup through Koke, Mario Hermoso, and Yannick Carrasco, and getting players closer to the box to involve Luis Suárez.

Matt: Despite the victory over Villarreal, Atleti’s form has been patchy in recent weeks. Does this dip have you worried about the title run-in?

Jeremy: Yes and no. The team just scraped through a very rough patch of games still atop the league and alive in the Champions League. Kieran Trippier’s return should provide a huge boost and shore up the right flank, potentially solidifying a defense that has fallen victim to serious variance plus some underperformance lately. All of Atlético’s COVID absentees have returned over the past few games and are starting to perform again — meaning more complementary scoring next to Suárez, and an improved ability to control the game.

But there’s still a third of the season to go, and Atlético’s defense hasn’t been particularly good OR lucky for much of 2021. That has to change. I don’t anticipate LaLiga being settled for less than 90 points. The results — i.e. wins — have to keep coming.

Matt: What’s the latest with injuries/ COVID sidelines / suspensions? Is Marcos Llorente going to be forced into a RB role?

Jeremy: Please, no, never again.

Trippier’s suspension is over, he is back in the team and expected to start. The team is COVID-free (for the moment), and the only injuries are to José Giménez and Thomas Lemar — the latter has a chance to be fit for Sunday, but it seems like a longer shot for Giménez.

Matt: How can Simeone unlock Joao Felix for the final stretch of the season?

Jeremy: By keeping him engaged and building more of the attack through him.

Félix is a sensational young talent who tends to switch off when Atlético don’t have the ball, when the game doesn’t flow through his feet. He’s like many young players in this regard. Of course, very few young players fetch a €126 million transfer fee.

This final stretch is huge for both player and club, with Atlético fighting for the title and Félix aiming to enter the Euros as a key player for Portugal. Whether he starts or enters as a sub, his attitude and determination have to meld with his talent in order to turn games.

Matt: Where do you think Real Madrid can be most effective against this Atleti team?

Jeremy: In the air, particularly on set pieces. The rojiblancos have struggled in this area in recent weeks. They nearly gave away a free kick equalizer last week, losing Gerard Moreno (the one guy you don’t want to lose) after going up a goal. Two weeks earlier, Granada did equalize from a corner before Atleti grabbed a winner in the final 15 minutes. Casemiro, especially, will be critical to mark and contain when Madrid win set piece opportunities.

Matt: Prediction!

Jeremy: I’m not quite confident enough to project a win, but I just can’t pick an Atleti loss. 1-1 draw, goals from Varane and Correa.