Diego Costa and Sergio Ramos renew rivalry and other talking points ahead of Madrid derby

Andy West 7/04/2018
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On the back of their outstanding Champions League victory over Juventus on Tuesday night, Real Madrid host crosstown rivals Atletico on Sunday afternoon in a game which could effectively decide second place in La Liga.

Atletico are currently four points clear of their neighbours and are also in high spirits after a 2-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.

Victory would almost certainly ensure that Atletico finished above Real at the end of the season, and although no silverware will be at stake this weekend’s showdown carries plenty of significance for local bragging rights.

Here are the three big storylines to look out for.

Atletico to continue Bernabeu dominance?

Diego Simeone’s Atletico boast an outstanding recent record from their league trips to face their big rivals, winning three and drawing one of their last four La Liga outings at the Bernabeu, with Real failing to defeat Atletico at home in the league since December 2012.

Those results have been perfectly justified, as well, with Atletico looking anything but fazed in the environs of their more illustrious neighbours. And there will be no shortage of self-belief among Simeone’s troops this weekend, with his team keeping a clean sheet in five of their last eight games in all competitions to maintain their reputation as one of the stingiest defences in the world.

But Zinedine Zidane’s Real are also in fine fettle after gaining four straight home wins in addition to their European exploits, so both teams can head into the game feeling good about themselves despite their failure to mount a serious title challenge.

Ramos and Costa renew hostilities

This weekend’s game will be the first Madrid derby for Diego Costa since the inflammable frontman rejoined Atletico from Chelsea, and it will therefore mark the renewal of his infamous relationship with Real skipper Sergio Ramos.

The duo ‘enjoyed’ several highly charged and extremely physical battles during Costa’s first spell at Atletico, and the visiting forward comes into the game in good form after Simeone declared his performance against Sporting in midweek to be his best since he returned to the club.

However, one change in the relationship between Ramos and Costa from the bad old days is that they are now international team-mates, following Costa’s decision to turn his back on his birth nation Brazil and follow his national fortunes in his adopted homeland.

So it could prove to be the case that a greater degree of familiarity will breed a new-found respect between Ramos and Costa, and perhaps even a de-escalation of their hostilities. But you probably wouldn’t want to bet on that.

Rotations for Zidane?

With the second leg of the Champions League tie with Juventus coming up, Real boss Zidane is likely to ring the changes and rotate through his squad for this weekend’s game.

Although he attempted to give away no clues in his pre-match press conference, there’s every chance that Gareth Bale will be given an increasingly rare start, while Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Mateo Kovacic also in the frame to earn recalls into the starting eleven.

That could also mean that red-hot Cristiano Ronaldo is rested, with Zidane eager to ensure his star asset remains as fresh as possible until the end of the season.

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Real Madrid will not give Barcelona guard of honour, Zinedine Zidane confirms

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Real Madrid will not give Barcelona a guard of honour if the Catalans have clinched the Spanish title before next month’s Clasico, Zinedine Zidane said on Saturday.

Barcelona lead La Liga by nine points with eight matches left and entertain Real in the penultimate round of the season. In Spain it has become traditional for opponents to form a guard of honour for the champions.

“We’re not going to do the guard” Zidane said at a press conference ahead of the Madrid derby against Atletico, who are also Barcelona’s closest pursuers.

“It’s my decision and that’s it,” said Zidane. “I don’t understand the point of the guard, so we aren’t going to do it. Anyway, we are a long way from the end of the season.”

Zidane insisted the decision had nothing to do with Barcelona’s refusal to form a guard of honour at the Clasico in Madrid in December just after Real had won the Club World Cup.

Even so, he acknowledged that Barca had “broken tradition”.

Zidane also insisted Gareth Bale was still “an important player”, even though the Welsh winger is playing less and remained on the bench in the Champions League victory at Juventus on Tuesday.

“These are decisions,” Zidane told the media. “You say he’s playing less or in less important games, but for me that’s not the case.”

Rumours have linked Bale to a host of other clubs, notably Manchester United.

“However we finish the season, my feeling is Gareth is going to stay,” said Zidane.

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Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho set to be named in Barcelona's starting XI against Leganes

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Barcelona entertain Leganes on Saturday as they look to take another step towards winning the La Liga title.

Ernesto Valverde’s side are still unbeaten in the league and are nine points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid – who face Real Madrid on Sunday – with eight games remaining.

Lucas Digne is sidelined for this weekend’s game, while Sergio Busquets is doubtful after being substituted midway through the second half against Roma with a fractured toe.

The Spaniard is likely to be kept in reserve, along with Andres Iniesta, while Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele are set to start.

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi is fit to start – following his recent hamstring and abductor problems.

Expect Valverde to rest or withdraw one of Messi or Luis Suarez later on in the match as he looks ahead to the second leg against Roma on Tuesday.

Thomas Vermaelen could come in for Samuel Umtiti at the back.

POSSIBLE XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Dembele, Paulinho, Rakitic, Coutinho; Messi, Suarez

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