Real Madrid will be aiming to strengthen their grip at the top of the La Liga standings when they play hosts to arch-rivals Atletico Madrid this weekend.

One of the biggest games of the 2021/22 La Liga season will come our way this Sunday night as leaders Real Madrid take on neighbours and reigning champions Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid are sitting comfortably at the top of the table, having collected 39 times from their 16 games so far. The Merengues have a five-point lead over Sevilla in second place following their 2-0 win over Real Sociedad last weekend. That result was followed by another 2-0 victory over Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League, which meant Los Blancos are on a 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions. Carlo Ancelotti & co. will be aiming to extend that run.

Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, are sitting fourth in the La Liga standings, with their title defence not off to the greatest start. The Rojiblancos are ten points off of their neighbours after losing 2-1 to RCD Mallorca in their last league outing. Diego Simeone’s men bounced back strongly to beat FC Porto 3-1 in midweek to book a place in the Champions League knockout stages and will be hoping to carry that momentum forward.

The corresponding fixture last season ended 2-0 in favour of Real Madrid courtesy of a Casemiro strike and an own goal by Jan Oblak. Ahead of their latest meeting on Sunday night, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

The big news for Real Madrid is that Karim Benzema is back to full fitness and has been named in the squad for the derby after having missed the midweek clash with an injury. Gareth Bale has also returned to the roster, having put his latest injury issue behind him. Dani Ceballos, meanwhile, remains unavailable.

Real Madrid will line up in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Thibaut Courtois manning the goal as expected. There are unlikely to be many changes made to the starting XI that took the field earlier in the week as Eder Militao and David Alaba pair up at the heart of the defence, flanked by the full-back pairing of Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy.

Casemiro is a certain starter at the base of the Real Madrid midfield and will be tasked with cutting out the influence of Atletico Madrid’s runners from the centre. He will have Luka Modric and Toni Kroos for company in the middle of the park, with the pair providing the creativity and control for the home team.

With Benzema back to full fitness, he ought to replace Luka Jovic as the No. 9 for Real Madrid against their local rivals on Sunday. Flanking the Frenchman should be the Brazilian duo of Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Junior. Marco Asensio misses out despite scoring after coming on as a substitute against Inter Milan while Bale could get some minutes from the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius

Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid have some major injury concerns in defence as both their right-backs, Kieran Trippier and Sime Vrsaljko, are ruled out, along with two centre-backs in Stefan Savic and Jose Maria Gimenez. Luis Suarez had been tipped to be a doubt for the game, but Diego Simeone has insisted that the Uruguayan could be in contention to feature at the Bernabeu.

In the absence of Savic and Gimenez, Felipe is likely to be paired up with a makeshift partner in the form of Geoffrey Kondogbia on Sunday night. Mario Hermoso will take up the left centre-back slot in Atletico Madrid’s 3-1-4-2 setup. Jan Oblak will guard the goal as usual for Los Colchoneros.

Versatile operator Marcos Llorente should slot in as the right wing-back, while Yannick Carrasco should start on the left. While the former will look to pump in crosses, the latter will try to make incisive forward runs. Atletico Madrid captain Koke will sit in front of the defence and look to provide defensive security while spraying forward passes to his teammates when on the ball.

Thomas Lemar and Rodrigo De Paul ought to operate as the two interior midfielders who will be tasked with driving the team forward from the centre of the park and providing attacking support to the strike partnership of Antoine Griezmann and summer signing Matheus Cunha. Angel Correa, Joao Felix and Suarez, if fit, will provide options from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-1-4-2): Oblak; Felipe, Kondogbia, Hermoso; Koke; Llorente, Lemar, De Paul, Carrasco; Cunha, Griezmann

Key Stats

  • This will be the 169th meeting between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in La Liga. Los Blancos have picked up 89 wins while Los Rojiblancos have just 39.
  • Real Madrid have avoided defeat in their last five home La Liga matches against Atletico Madrid (W2 D3), keeping a clean sheet in each of the previous three.
  • Atletico Madrid have failed to win in their last seven games against Real Madrid in all competitions (D4 L3).
  • Real Madrid are the first team in the Top 5 European Leagues this season, with two players scoring 10+ goals in the league competition: Karim Benzema (12) and Vinicius Junior (10).
  • Koke has played 366 La Liga matches for Atletico Madrid and will equal Tomas Renones (367) as the Atletico Madrid player with the second-most appearances in the Spanish top-flight behind Adelardo Rodriguez (401).

Player to Watch

Karim Benzema

The French striker has been Real Madrid’s best player this season, along with fellow attacker Vinicius Junior. Benzema missed the last game against Inter Milan, but his absence did not hurt Los Blancos as they showed themselves capable of coming out on top without their ace striker. However, it goes without saying that having him back available for selection for a clash of this magnitude comes as a major boost.

Benzema, who has 12 league goals this season, has found the back of the net on two occasions in his last three La Liga appearances against Atletico Madrid. With Real Madrid aiming to widen the gap at the top of the La Liga standings, the veteran centre-forward will hold the key again on Sunday night.

Prediction

Real Madrid 2-1 Atletico Madrid

Leading up to El Derbi, Real Madrid are in red-hot form, piling up a 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions. On the other hand, Atletico Madrid have been largely inconsistent this season, although the midweek win over FC Porto will have boosted the spirit within the camp a great deal.

Nonetheless, under Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid have become a hard team to beat, with Eder Militao and David Alaba forming a rock-solid centre-back pairing. And with Atleti missing some key defensive personnel, the hosts should be able to pick up a crucial victory on Sunday night.

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