Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
December 1, 2012; 21:00 GMT
With Real Madrid crashing against Real Betis, a defeat which virtually ended their La Liga hopes, and Atletico Madrid charging ahead and chasing Barcelona, El Derbi Madrileño could not have come at a more appropriate time for the league. This derby may very well decide the outcome of the league.
These are strange times in Spain. At the start of the season, Real Madrid were expected to win the trophy with Barcelona aligning themselves to Vilanova’s ideas. In reality, it has turned out to be totally diametric. Barcelona have cruised along with the best-ever start to a league campaign where as Real Madrid have struggled to keep going. These are very hard times for the Portuguese super star coach. In the mid-week Copa Del Rey clash against Alcoyano, a section of the ground whistled Mourinho in stark contrast to the happy times when his name would have been sung with great pomp and joy.
Last season, Real Madrid were demons terrorizing defences with their mesmerizing game and lightning speed of attacks. They were unstoppable, pulverizing teams in their wake. They have hardly played one game like that this season. The desire seems lacking and the players appear to be not trying hard enough. With their star players from last year - Mesut Özil and Angel Di Maria being inconsistent this year, Real Madrid have found the going tough and have lost their charisma.
On the other hand Diego Simeone knows only one way to play: Hard. His Atletico Madrid side is hardly flashy. However, they possess a tremendous fighting spirit. With Falcao as their beacon,the other team from Madrid has not put a foot wrong all season. With a not so talented squad, they have ground out results like never before, 11 wins out of 13 games so far. It’s astonishing to say the least. In any other league, they will be top of the table.
Diego Simeone is already Atletico’s best coach ever with the best winning percentage. With 36 wins, eight draws and just seven defeats from 51 games across all competitions, the Argentine has been the one coach Atletico could have ever asked for. With a huge debt and financial complications notwithstanding, he has already delivered two European titles – Europa League and UEFA Super Cup – in a thrilling but unquestionable fashion.
With the Madrid derby producing only one winner since 1999, Rojiblancos have the belief that their time has finally come. With Real Madrid under tremendous pressure and Atletico on a roll, it would take a mammoth effort from Los Blancos to keep their city rivals from walking away with the honors.
Team News and Tactics
José Mourinho rested most of his first team players for the Copa Del Rey second leg against Alcoyano and this means that they will be fresh enough to face Atletico’s might. Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos and Coentrão will be part of the back four ahead of Iker Casillas in goal. With Falcao being the biggest threat, Pepe may be instructed to man mark and deny any space to the Columbian to weave his magic.
Khedira and Alonso are automatic starters in midfield. While it is obvious that Madrid will dominate possession and Atletico will play on the counter, Khedira will have license to move forward and occupy Gabi or Mario Suárez to give more breathing space to the attacking midfield.
Ronaldo and Benzema are another two automatic starters. Gonzalo Higuain is still injured which means that Mourinho will have less star presence on the bench. Angel Di Maria has not been at his best and his decision-making with the ball has been suspect this season but with Callejón having played the full match against Alcoyano mid-week, the Argentinian may well play ahead of the Spaniard.
Only one spot is in doubt. Mesut Özil has seen better days and Luka Modric is yet to convince the Madrid faithful that he deserves a starting berth. Kaká on the other hand was dropped or rested (depending on who you believe) for the Alcoyano game which has given rise to speculations that the Brazilian super star will move to another club in the winter transfer season. However, the one-time Ballon d’Or winner has been impressive whenever called upon and him being rested Alcoyano could be to keep him fresh for the Atletico game. It remains to be seen if that indeed was Mourinho’s intentions but it chances are that it could be the reality.
Real Madrid have lacked creativity this season in the big games. Atletico are a very organized side and will give their lines tight asking more from Real Madrid. Xabi Alonso and the Angel Di Maria could very well hold the key to unlock this defence.
On the other wing, Ronaldo will be up against Juanfran, another lost gem from the Real Madrid academy who has made his Spanish debut under Vicente Del Bosque. Juanfran is more like an attacking wing back which will mean that Ronaldo will get his chances to utilize the space behind him or atleast pin him back to his position leading to an exciting battle on the wings.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1]: Casillas(GK); Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Kaká, Ronaldo; Benzema
Juanfran, Miranda, Godín and Felipe Luis are pretty much the first-choice defensive line for Atletico. Even Diego Simeone rested several of his key players for their mid-week Copa Del Rey clash with an eye on the derby. Gabi, the captain, will marshal his troops from the midfield alongside Mario Suárez. Tiago is another option in case the coach decides to alter his tactics. Raúl García is another option for the coach but he will be on the bench.
Koke, Diego Costa and Arda Turan will take the field to help Falcao in offense. While Arda Turan has so far been very good this season, Simeone will also be counting on Koke, the Atletico Madrid youth product to bring his best against their eternal rivals. Diego Costa is more of a supporting striker than an attacking play-maker. So, the onus will be on Arda Turan and Koke to keep the game ticking. Don’t be surprised if Atletico use a narrow 4-4-2.
Diego Simeone has brought in a great discipline to this outfit and more importantly efficiency in front of goal. they are least bothered about possession and are more obsessed about keeping their shape and controlling the space on the field. Real Madrid will have great problems if Atletico manage to chalk up opportunities to score and with El Tigre leading the charge, the ball will not need many attempts to go to the back of the net.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1]: Courtois(GK); Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe Luis; Gabi, Mario Suárez; Koke, Diego Costa, Arda Turan; Falcao
Players To Watch Out
Cristiano Ronaldo(Real Madrid)
It goes without saying on whom the spotlight will be in this intense clash. Ronaldo and Falcao along with Messi have made a mockery of goal scoring records in European football this season but the form of the Portuguese and the Columbian has slightly dipped from their super lofty standards.
Radamel Falcao(Atletico Madrid)
While Ronaldo has not been at his best against Manchester City and Real Betis, Falcao stemmed his so-called rot by putting in an impressive performance against Sevilla capping it off with a penalty. In this intense battle, their mind-boggling goal scoring abilities could just be the difference between both teams.
Real Madrid 3 – 2 Atletico Madrid
What ever be the outcome, entertainment is guaranteed. Real Madrid will be playing at home and would like to put on a show for their fans. On the other hand, Atletico will not want to let Barcelona out of their sights and then there is the added inspiration of bragging rights. Real Madrid may just scrape through with the crowd egging them on.
Blast from the Past