Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid Preview
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Real Madrid are in the unusual position of playing catch-up as they prepare to host city rivals Atletico Madrid, who after a blazing start to the season sit eight points above the Meringues in the Primera Division ledger.
BREAKDOWN: As is customary when one of his teams is struggling, Jose Mourinho has come under considerable criticism in recent weeks and a run that has seen Real Madrid win just one of its last six matches has thrown the manager’s position with the Spanish giants into question.
In an interview with Marca ahead of the Madrid derby Paulo Futre—a former Atletico player and personal friend of Mourinho—acknowledged that “every time Mourinho opens his mouth he causes controversy.”
“There are always rumours,” he continued. “Things aren’t clear. It’s a difficult situation. It seems people don’t want him to succeed.”
Such talk likely has a lot to do with why Mourinho has so far remained uncharacteristically quiet ahead of Saturday’s match, but while the Madrid boss avoided the microphone his opposite number came quickly to his defense.
In his pre-match press conference Diego Simeone expressed his admiration of Mourinho, telling reporters “he’s a winner and has proven his ability in every country he has coached in.”
Simeone also addressed Atletico’s game-plan for Saturday and dismissed notions that his side would park the bus at the Bernabeu.
“Every team has its own philosophy—a clearly defined style,” he said. “We’ll try and stick to ours and our opponent will try and do what is best for them.”
Coming into the showdown Atletico have won four consecutive matches over three competitions while outscoring their opponents a combined 7-0. Top-scorer Radamel Falcao has scored just once in that span, but as he has cooled somewhat in front of goal his teammates have picked up the slack, with six different Atletico players finding the back of the net.
Madrid, meanwhile, defeated Alcoyano 3-0 in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday but were beaten 1-0 at Real Betis the last time out in La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t found the back of the net since the 2-1 win at Levante on November 11 that also saw the Portugal captain suffer a gash over his left eye.
ESSENTIALS: Real Madrid are still without left-back Marcelo and central defender Raul Albiol will miss out through injury as well. Striker Gonzalo Higuain is a major doubt and midfielder Michael Essien, on loan from Chelsea, has flown back to London to receive treatment for a variety of injuries and a troubling reaction to some medication he received.
Atletico goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, also a Chelsea loanee, will start between the sticks after fighting off a virus but winger Christian Rodriguez misses out with a thigh injury. Mario Suarez returns after serving a one-match ban.
KEY BATTLE: Both side’s right-backs will get some good exercise on Saturday, as on one flank Ronaldo will be looking to snap out of a funk while on the other Arda Turan will be looking to maintain his good standard of play.
Juanfran will be assigned the Ronaldo file while Alvaro Arbeloa can expect to be pinned back more than usual with Turan operating in a playmaking role to Diego Costa’s left.
FORMATIONS: Both managers will deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation. Mourinho will start Karim Benzema up top and support the striker with the trio of Ronaldo, one of Luca Modric and Mesut Ozil, and Angel Di Maria. Simeone will have Turan, Diego Costa and Koke operating just behind Falcao.
BETLINE: Real Madrid 4/9; Draw 7/2; Atletico Madrid 11/2. Real Madrid were 4-1 winners in each of their Primera Division matches against Atletico last season.