Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid face off on Saturday night in what is a potential title-deciding game. This has been the case for the last number of years, with Atletico pushing their neighbours so hard. There is a change this season however. With both Madrid clubs not hitting top form as of yet, Saturday’s encounter is a potential title-deciding game for different reasons.
Barcelona have gone eight points ahead of both Real Madrid and Atletico after 11 games. In doing so, they have forced both Madrid clubs into a difficult situation on Saturday evening. A loss for either side sees them fall behind Barcelona even further. With Barcelona expected to beat Leganes earlier in the day, the losing side in the Derbi will be 11 points behind. This is too significant a gap to make up. Ultimately, whoever loses on Saturday is out of the title race.
Looking at both club’s form in La Liga alone would suggest there is little wrong. Bar a few slips against Girona and Betis in particular, Real Madrid sit third in the league and have collected two trophies so far this season. Atleti meanwhile have gone their opening 11 games unbeaten and are level on points with Los Blancos.
Looking deeper however, it’s plain to see not everything is going so smooth. Atletico drew with Azerbaijani side Qarabag home and away in the Champions League and sit third in their group – four points behind second placed Chelsea. Real Madrid have stuttered in their Champions League campaign also. They drew with Tottenham at home in a game where they created a host of chances but failed to score. The return fixture saw Tottenham demolish Los Blancos 3-1.
One key trait the Madrid clubs share is that their main attacker is not on form. Antoine Griezmann has not had the best of starts to the season. Simeone has been deploying the Frenchman in a much more defensive role and doesn’t get the best out of his number seven as a result. The Frenchman, linked with a move away in January, has only managed two goals in nine La Liga starts. With Real having an under-performing defence this season – conceding an average of 2.2 goals per game on their travels – Griezmann will be looking to capitalise and increase his goal tally.
Cristiano Ronaldo similar to Griezi, has had a slow start to the season. This is now seen as a period of transition away from BBC and moving into the Asensio and Isco era. Ronaldo’s prominence in terms of carrying Real Madrid appears to be dwindling. Having said that, due to his preseason training, it is expected CR7 will hit his peak after the New Year. For now however, Ronaldo is struggling to score. The Portuguese captain has only managed to hit the net once in La Liga.
Madrid create ample opportunities and – in doing so, they do score – but not with the same killer instinct as last season. Its worth remembering Madrid went 73 consecutive games scoring. Since this run was halted, Zidane’s side have also scored in every game since.
With so much at stake and neither side wanting to lose, this game has draw written all over it. Atleti have been very defensive in their last few games, presumably in building up to this game. They will look to have a strong defensive block and hope Ronaldo and Benzema continue to not score. Madrid on the other hand, will need Isco to be at his creative best to unlock this defensive block.
It is the wide players however that will be key in deciding this potential title-deciding game. With so much focus put on defending the centre by Atleti and with Real having their main source of creativity through the central Isco, spaces will present themselves out wide. This will be the case for both teams. As Atleti look to counter attack, the most available spaces will be out wide. Whoever makes the best use of these spaces should come out on top in this potential title-deciding game.
Looking to the team news, Atletico have a full squad to choose from except for Diego Costa who is not eligible until January. Real Madrid on the other hand will be without Keylor Navas, Kovacic and the seemingly forever injured Gareth Bale. Luka Modric has been passed fit to play after being a doubt all week along with Dani Carvajal has also been openly deemed fit by Zidane.
Expected line ups:
Real Madrid: Casilla; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco; Ronaldo, Benzema
Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Juanfran, Savic, Godin, Lucas; Gabi, Saul, Thomas; Koke, Correa, Griezmann