Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Sept 28, 2013; 20:00 GMT
After an undeserving victory against Elche, Real Madrid face the first biggest challenge of their Ancelotti era against Atletico Madrid at home. While the home team may look to be behind their city rivals by only two points, it has been apparent that they are still sorting out tactical issues and look unconvincing over the course of 90 minutes.
In contrast, Atletico Madrid have had an excellent start and even the departure of Radamel Falcao has not had a great impact on them. David Villa has been drafted to replace the Colombian and the Spaniard is finally looking close to the great striker he once was.
It could all be attributed to the continuity under Diego Simeone. The Argentine has been a revelation and under him Atletico Madrid have won as many trophies as Real Madrid did under Jose Mourinho and that too in little over an year. Simeone brought in some much required sensibility to a struggling unit and since then, they have built on their initial success. It has been a tedious process considering the financial state of Atletico, but finally they have the potential to upset any of the big two.
Last season, Atletico pulled off a huge upset when they beat Mourinho’s Real Madrid comprehensively at home in the Copa Del Rey final ending a 14 year winless streak. In what was a one-sided derby in the last decade, it is no longer the same.
Team News and Tactical Brief
“The team is too slow…we’re not seeking solutions between the lines. We’re playing very sideways and that makes it easier for the opposition’s defence.If we play like this in the derby, we won’t win.”
Carlo Ancelotti’s post-match assessment after an undeserving victory over Elche could not be more fair. The team played poor football and left too many spaces between midfield and defense. While Luka Modric and Sami Khedira have been decent, there appears to be a lack of proper organization between them and the defense. Pepe has been caught out multiple times and as a result of defense has been stationed a bit deeper and even farther from the midfield.
While Xabi Alonso’s presence would have made things simpler considering how coolly the Spaniard slots into those lines, Modric and Khedira’s game of moving forward continuously isn’t helping Madrid much. Offensively, they look threatening owning to the brilliance of Isco and the prowess of Ronaldo but the team is still searching for its identity after the sale of Mesut Ozil.
Under Ozil, the team was primarily counter attacking and direct, but without the German, they have been flirting between direct and possession based football. It is crucial for the coach to get his principles correct and design a tactical system suiting his players.
Bale’s arrival gives Real Madrid better options in attack but it refuses to solve the club’s current problems. Illarramendi is still finding his feet and until he is at his best and Alonso is back, the problems may continue to persist.
Atletico play a very physical and direct game and with Diego Costa in top form and the Brazilian very adept in playing between the lines and play-acting to get what he wants, Real Madrid will need to be compact if they want to come away with a victory.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Lopez; Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Modric, Khedira; Bale, Isco, Ronaldo; Benzema
One thing is obvious: Atletico Madrid don’t care about possession. They are always looking to control spaces on the pitch. With the ball, they are dangerous between the lines when given space and while defending, there is no other team in La Liga which can defend as well as Atletico. They resemble Simeone in his playing days – tough, intimidating but sure.
The club goes into the derby with a winning mentality and a belief that they could win after their Copa del Rey victory last year. Their defense remains the same and the only real change in personnel is Villa replacing Falcao in the starting XI.
They will keep it narrow, closing down spaces, pressing hard, pushing around but when given the chance, will attack with ferocity.
Also Courtois, Lopez and Valdes have had a terrific start to their season and are all set to battle for the tag of the current best goal keeper in La Liga. This derby could yet see some incredible saves considering the ominous form both Courtois and Lopez are in.
Probable starting line-up (4-4-2): Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Luis; Turan, Gabi, Tiago, Koke; Costa, Villa
Player To Watch Out For
He has been the player of the season so far. With seven goals, he is leading the Pichichi race alongside Lionel Messi and is one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. His play has been impressive and Simeone has given the license to roam around after Falcao’s departure enabling Costa to show his true worth and his refusal to leave Madrid for Liverpool has further enhanced his reputation among Atletico’s fans.
Real Madrid 1 – 1 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid are struggling to function cohesively while Atletico have never been so strong. The defending from both sides would hold the key to the contest and usually under Diego Simeone the visitors don’t commit too many mistakes.