Vicente Calderon, Madrid
April 27th 2013, 20:00 GMT
The Semi Final first leg clash of the UEFA Champions League left the football world utterly stunned. For the first time in some years, either of Real Madrid or Barcelona did not go into the tie as favourites. Yet no one could have predicted this. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund quite simply tore apart their opponents and the Spanish duo was handed out footballing lessons. It was against Liverpool in 2008 last that Real Madrid had to suffer such a result in Europe while it is hard to recall when Jose Mourinho last lost in this shocking a fashion. It is not in Real Madrid’s character to give up, but it will not be a pessimistic stand to take that La Decima will have to wait for now. For a season after one of Real Madrid’s most spectacular league triumphs and getting over Barcelona’s hoodoo, this really has been a mystery.
Atletico Madrid too have fallen behind after a spectacular start to the season. Having held an 8-point lead over their fiercest rivals early-on, they now find themselves three points behind them. This, however, could be the best time for them to claw back their way into the hunt for second spot and end a fourteen year blank.
Team Line-up and Tactics
Only Turkey international Arda Turan is out injured for Atletico Madrid, allowing Diego Simeone to choose from an almost full strength squad. With an entire squad at disposal, Simeone’s dilemma would be whether to match Real Madrid at 4-2-3-1 formation, or play their more normal 4-4-2 formation. Los Rojiblancos have been known to deploy both formations during the course of the season quite frequently and with a natural winger in Arda Turan missing, Simeone might just opt to play a 4-2-3-1 formation.
With Atletico Madrid in an 4-2-3-1 formation, Brazilian Diego Costa is likely to drop into the attacking trio behind Falcao, rescinding his centre-forward duties alongside the Columbian. Koke will resume his duties on the left flank as a winger, while Adrian on the right will play as the more conventional attacking midfielder.
Atletico Madrid’s infallible duo of Mario Suarez and Gabi will form the midfield pivot. The duo has been instrumental in Atletico’s successes this season, and has been close to impenetrable at home. A familiar backline of Juanfran, Miranda, Diego Godin and Filipe Luis will line-up in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, on-loan from Chelsea.
On an ideal day, Atletico Madrid will have wanted to line-up in a 4-4-2 formation and run down Real Madrid’s flanks. At their best, the quartet of Suarez, Gabi, Koke and Turan is among the very best in the world and could have come in handy against a Real Madrid side that is not going to be at its strongest. As it stands though, Turan’s absence will dilute Atletico Madrid’s strength on the wings and responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Suarez and Gabi to maintain a greater share of possession in the middle of the park to compensate a shift in the style of play, something which has not been their greatest strength this season.
Falcao’s predatory instincts and natural strength will be a priceless asset against a Real Madrid defence, which for all it solidity in the last couple of months, is badly shaken after the defeat in Germany and will most likely be rotated with an eye on the second leg. Atletico Madrid have been brilliant at set-pieces this season, and this is yet another scenario where their opponents’ weak defence could be exploited.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) : Courtois(GK); Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Luis; Gabi, M. Suarez; Adrian, Costa, Koke; Falcao
The victory over Real Betis in the last Primera Division fixture came at the cost of injury to Marcelo which alongside Arbeloa, will keep him out of the fixture. Real Madrid will also be without the services of their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, who has a muscular problem. Other key players might be rested too with one eye on the second leg clash, where Real Madrid will have to fight and give it all for the shirt, if nothing else. Jose Mourinho will not underestimate the importance of the Madrid derby though, and this will present an interesting selection dilemma.
Real Madrid will line up in the familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Diego Lopez, who continues to keep his place over Iker Casillas, will be assisted by a different back-four from the one that lined up against Borussia Dortmund. Raul Albiol and Nacho are likely to come in for Varane and the injured Marcelo. Michael Essien will deputize for Sergio Ramos, who is not part of the squad for the fixture. Luka Modric will drop back to the deep midfield role and alongside Khedira will form the midfield pivot.
Alvaro Morata could make his first start in a Madrid derby alongside Mesut Ozil and Di Maria in the attacking trio, while Karim Benzema would lead the line for Real Madrid. Many years ago in a Madrid derby of similarly ‘lesser importance‘a young Raul scored his first Real Madrid goal to embark on a legendary career. Morata could seize such a chance tonight.
With a slightly depleted squad, rotations and Cristiano Ronaldo missing, Real Madrid have their task cut out to maintain the superiority that they have had over their fierce rivals for years now. Responsibility will lie with the likes of Ozil, Modric and Benzema to perform in a hostile atmosphere and lead the team in the absence of Casillas Ramos and Ronaldo. There are flaws in Atletico Madrid’s armour that could be exploited. Real Madrid, even with a depleted squad, have enough quality to maintain possession of the ball, and with Atletico lining up in a different formation than usual, seizing a greater chunk of possession might prove the game clincher. Elsewhere, Los Blancos will do well to double up on Atletico’s wingers and full backs, or they could find themselves overrun. However, with the relative inexperience of Morata and Nacho on the left and attacking industry of Di Maria on the right, this will not be an easy task.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) : Lopez(GK); Essien, Pepe, Albiol, Nacho; Khedira, Modric; Di Maria, Ozil, Morata; Benzema
- Real Madrid haven’t lost to Atletico Madrid in any competition since 1999, a 14 year gap for Los Rojiblancos.
- Real Madrid have won their last 9 fixtures against Atletico Madrid in all competitions.
- Real Madrid have won 9 out of last 10 fixtures and drawn one in La Liga.
- Atletico Madrid are undefeated in 18 of their last 19 home matches in La Liga.
Player to watch out for
Radamel Falcao continues to be the centre of transfer speculations across all major football clubs across Europe but the Columbian hitman has continued to deliver for Atletico Madrid. His goal away at Sevilla secured three crucial points for Los Rojiblancos and ensures that they remain in contention for the second spot in La Liga. At Vicente Calderon, he will be THE centre of attention and is likely to have major influence on the outcome of this fixture.
Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid will smell blood and know that this might be one of their best moments in the last 14 years to finally get one over their rivals. Real Madrid too will be aware of the importance of the record and will want to give their all after the Champions League debacle. An interesting game could be on hand at the Vicente Calderon with both teams going for the kill. Expect, however, the home team to be the more dangerous team outright.