LaLiga, Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid Preview: After youngsters steal limelight in midweek, focus on keeping momentum in derby
LaLiga leaders Real Madrid make a short trip to Atletico Madrid for the first city derby of the Spanish league season.
Real Madrid come into the Madrid derby on the back of consecutive wins against Sevilla and Osasuna
Atletico Madrid ended their three game winless streak with a 2-0 victory over Real Mallorca
Atletico Madrid's last home win against Real Madrid came in February 2015
Three players born in this century were on the scoresheet across the two Madrid sides in the past midweek. At the Bernabeu, Vinicius Jr. opened the scoring – helped by a deflection – before Rodrygo bagged his debut goal – just 93 seconds after coming on a second half substitute against Osasuna. In Palma, Joao Felix scored Atletico Madrid's second to put them in a much better position against Real Mallorca. Come Saturday night, for the Madrid derby at Wanda Metropolitano, the trio are unlikely to be the focal points at the start.
For one, Rodrygo won't even be part of travelling party as he joins up with Real Madrid Castilla, the club's B team, for the home game against Rayo Majadahonda. "He knows we're going to go bit by bit with him," manager Zinedine Zidane said on Friday. "For tomorrow we have already taken the decision and that's it. For the next game we'll see but tomorrow he plays for Castilla and he's happy with that." The other Brazilian in the Samba act, Vinicius Jr., could drop to the bench with Karim Benzema stepping up to the starting XI.
Joao Felix, Atletico Madrid's most expensive signing at € 126 million, would most definitely take the field alongside Diego Costa upfront. Alvaro Morata, former Real Madrid player, would be absent having picked up a red card in Mallorca. Felix hasn't had the most explosive starts to justify Atleti breaking bank to get the former Benfica man but these are still early days. If he is able to add to either of his two goals and an assist to aid a win – at home – it would be just the christening the Rojiblancos would have liked.
For Atleti and manager Diego Simeone, the concern would be to see Felix and Costa unable to link up effectively. Between the two, only 13 passes have been successfully completed with the Portuguese player forming a better partnership with Koke on the right. If Simeone or the duo are to draw inspiration, they don't have to go back long. During the pre-season friendly, Atletico Madrid thrashed Real 7-3 with Costa scoring four with two assists coming from Felix.
For Real, Eden Hazard would take centre stage. The Belgian picked up an injury before the season began and only returned following the international break. Since then, Hazard has come off the bench against Levante and had little to offer against PSG and Sevilla. Again, early days for a player in a completely different league and Real manager Zinedine Zidane is not worried. "Listen we know the quality of player we have and we know he is going to deliver," said Zidane in a press conference on Friday.
"Everyone expects a lot from him and he knows that. But we support him and he is with us. As the games go by I am sure he is going to be the player we want him to be in this Real Madrid team."
Both teams have had their mini 'crisis' – which in Spain comes rather quickly. At least the hyperbole does. Draws against Real Valladolid and Villarreal and a scare against Levante meant Zidane was already answering questions about his job safety. It hasn't helped that former Real manager Jose Mourinho has been stirring the pot with claims he is ready to take up the coveted job once again.
Simeone, too, has had his share of tough questions. Atleti drew blanks against Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo but could take confidence from a come-from-behind draw against Juventus in the Champions League. "Atleti fans are demanding so I am not surprised by the criticism at all," said Simeone after the Celta Vigo draw. "Coaches are always to blame when you lose."
For both teams, midweek results were a suggestion of an upward curve in what has been an inconsistent start for the biggies in the league. Real Madrid, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have held the top spot with six weeks played. Only Real and Athletic are the undefeated teams in the league with Barcelona, away to Getafe earlier in the day, suffering an equally jittery start to things.
On the injury front, something Real have been affected by significantly, Isco, Marcelo and Luka Modric – all have recovered and trained with the rest of the squad. But it is Isco and Modric who are in prime running to feature in the first city derby of the season.
Zidane and Simeone both would be interested in keeping their respective teams going. Real haven't allowed a shot on goal in the last two games with Thibaut Courtois finally ending his miserable record in goal. At Sanchez Pizjuan, Courtois went 90 minutes without conceding – his first clean slate since February! On Wednesday, Alphonse Areola played his first game for Los Blancos and had no trouble against Osasuna's – a team with third lowest goal count in LaLiga behind Alaves and Leganes – inconsistent firing line.
For Atleti, Mallorca win would be a massive morale booster. It came after three winless games and saw them clinch their first win at Real Mallorca since 2011. On the pitch, Atleti dominated things and boasted of 70 percent possession at one point in the first half. Costa scored the first – his second of the year – and the positive energy on set pieces returned. The same strategy saw Atletico Madrid win the league in 2014. And the same strategy could well make a difference against Real who are not the most confident in dead ball situations if you take Sergio Ramos out of the equation.
Atletico Madrid hadn't beaten Real for 14 years (from 1999 till 2013) before bouncing off three straight wins at the Bernabeu. But at home, Atleti haven't been as fruitful. Their only home win since 1998-99 against the city rivals came in the 2014-15 season (4-0) with two games going Real's way and two ending in stalemates. With Champions League matchday two fixtures next week, a draw might not be the worst result, especially this early in the season for either team. Having said that, it is an early litmus test for both teams and both managers' credentials and neither would want to falter.
Schedule: Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano at 12.30 AM IST on 29 September.
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