Five key talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Atletico

Andy West 7/04/2017
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Where will Saturday’s La Liga tie between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid be settled?

Here, we look at some key talking points ahead of the game.

Can Real make possession count?

At home to Real Sociedad on Tuesday night, Atletico sat back, soaked up pressure and saw the visitors control nearly 70 per cent of possession.

Just like they wanted. Diego Simeone is a rare contemporary example of a manager who has no interest in attempting to command possession of the ball, and he is sure to send out his team in a deep-lying strategy, relying on the pace of Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Carrasco to wreak havoc on the break if Real over-commit. Madrid, therefore, must play with patience and balance rather than attempting to force the issue.



Atletico’s attacking width

In several recent derbies, Atletico have enjoyed great success by taking advantage of the lack of defensive support given to Real full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal and launching their attacks down the wings.

That was particularly the case in their 4-0 win two years ago, when all four goals came from crosses. Full-backs Juanfran and Filipe Luis are masters at making well-timed runs to provide attacking width, and they can also both produce excellent deliveries into the box. Madrid cannot afford for them to become significant factors in the game and must ensure they are tracked whenever they come forward.



Set-piece strategy

Real have scored more goals directly from corners than any other La Liga team this season (nine) and Sergio Ramos’s set-piece heroics are already legendary – in no small part due to his injury time goal in the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico.

The ‘Kroos to Ramos’ equation has bailed out Real time and again, and stopping them is easier said than done.

At the other end of the field, Atletico are also very dangerous from free-kicks and corners, with assistant coach Mono Burgos everinventive in his set-piece planning, so don’t be surprised if Diego Godin manages to out-Ramos Ramos.



The midfield battleground

The battle between Real enforcer Casemiro and visiting skipper Gabi is not one for the feint-hearted, and the identity of the winner will go a long way towards deciding which team controls the flow of the game.

With Luka Modric and Toni Kroos on one side, and Koke and Saul Niguez on the other, both teams possess gifted ball players in midfield.

Minimising their influence to cut out the supply lines to the forwards will be crucial, and Real’s trio will certainly have to work tirelessly to overcome an Atletico midfield which is perhaps the most combative in the world.



Zidane’s dynamite bench

Real’s scintillating opening burst at Leganes on Wednesday hammered home the message that Zidane is blessed with more backup attacking options than he knows what to do with.

Young winger Marco Asensio, for instance, was the star of the show, but probably won’t even make the squad today. With outstanding players like James Rodriguez,

Isco, Alvaro Morata and Lucas Vazquez all likely to be on the bench, Zidane’s use of his substitutes could be crucial.

The ‘BBC’ of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are no longer untouchable, and Zidane’s matchwinner may well have a different identity.



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European Football wrap: Best player, biggest upset & more

Miss any of Wednesday night’s action?

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Alvaro Morata scored twice as Real Madrid maintained a two-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga by making light of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s absence in a 4-2 win at Leganes.

Earlier, on Wednesday, Lionel Messi’s double on his return from suspension and Luis Suarez’s stunning overhead kick helped Barcelona sweep aside Sevilla 3-0.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane gambled on the strength of his squad ahead of a mammoth 18 days which sees the European champions welcome Atletico Madrid and Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabeu and also meet old foes Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

However, the Frenchman was rewarded as the likes of Marco Asensio, James Rodriguez and Morata took their chance to shine.

As well as their slender lead, Real also have a game in hand over Barcelona.

At the Nou Camp, Messi, who was banned for his last two outings for club and country, looked rested rather than rusty as he took his tally for the season to 43 goals in 41 games.

The Argentine also played his part in setting up Luis Suarez’s stunning overhead kick to open the scoring.

Defeat continues Sevilla’s slump and a sixth straight game without a win sees them remain three points behind Atletico Madrid in the battle for third place.


Eden Hazard fired Premier League leaders Chelsea to a crucial 2-1 win over Manchester City, but Tottenham are hot on their heels after a sensational fightback in their 3-1 victory at Swansea on Wednesday.

Chelsea remain seven points clear of second placed Tottenham with eight games to play, yet with just minutes left on a dramatic evening it seemed the Blues would have a much greater lead.

Rocked by Saturday’s shock 2-1 home defeat against Crystal Palace, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side took only 10 minutes to take the lead through Hazard’s 12th goal of the season.

Hazard’s effort deflected off Vincent Kompany and beat Willy Caballero, whose weak attempted save drew a frustrated look from City boss Pep Guardiola as he contemplated the latest in a growing list of gaffes from his goalkeepers this season.

Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois was guilty of an even worse blunder, spilling David Silva’s shot to Sergio Aguero, who tapped in City’s 26th minute equaliser.

Conte’s team were back in front after 35 minutes when Fernandinho conceded a penalty with a foul on Pedro.

Hazard’s spot-kick was saved by Caballero, but the Belgian recovered quickly to finish off the rebound.

Kompany, back in the line-up for the first time since November, hit the crossbar with a second half header, but fourth placed City crashed to their first defeat in nine games, leaving them without a win in four, while Chelsea are still in pole position for the title.

At the Liberty Stadium, Tottenham fell behind in the 11th minute when Wayne Routledge turned in Jordan Ayew’s cross for Swansea.

But Tottenham staged an incredible finale as England midfielder Dele Alli equalised with an 88th minute tap-in.

A minute into stoppage-time, South Korea forward Son Heung-Min bagged his 16th goal of the season with a clinical finish and there was still time for Christian Eriksen’s strike to put the seal on Tottenham’s fifth successive win.

Arsenal eased the pressure on Arsene Wenger and climbed back into the race for Champions League qualification with a 3-0 win over West Ham.

Wenger had endured repeated calls for his resignation from frustrated fans in recent weeks, but the protests at the Emirates Stadium were more muted for once as Arsenal ended a three-match winless run with only their second victory in their last seven league games.

Mesut Ozil broke the deadlock in the 58th minute with a curling effort from the edge of the penalty area.

Theo Walcott bagged Arsenal’s second in the 68th minute and Olivier Giroud’s superb strike in the 83rd minute ensured his side moved above Manchester United into fifth place, four points behind Manchester City with a game in hand.

West Ham’s fifth successive defeat leaves them just three points above the relegation zone.

Liverpool were hit by a late sucker punch as Bournemouth snatched a 2-2 draw at Anfield.

Benik Afobe struck for Bournemouth in the seventh minute, but Philippe Coutinho bagged Liverpool’s equaliser with a typically cool 40th minute finish.

That made Coutinho the joint highest Brazilian scorer in Premier League history, alongside former Middlesbrough playmaker Juninho, with 29 goals.

Divock Origi put Liverpool in front in the 59th minute, but Josh King blasted his eighth goal in eight appearances to rescue Bournemouth in the 87th minute.

Liverpool’s latest slip against lowly opposition leaves Jurgen Klopp’s third placed side six points above fifth place in the race for the Champions League.

Hull climbed out of the relegation zone with a priceless 4-2 win over relegation rivals Middlesbrough at the KCOM Stadium.

Middlesbrough took a fifth minute lead through Alvaro Negredo, but Hull were level nine minutes later as Lazar Markovic drove in his first goal since arriving on loan from Liverpool.

Oumar Niasse, in the 27th minute, and Abel Hernandez, in the 33rd minute, put Hull in control before Middlesbrough’s Marten De Roon struck seconds before half-time.

Harry Maguire’s 70th minute goal ensured Hull would win for the third time in their last four games to move two points above the bottom three.

Second bottom Middlesbrough are seven points from safety after their winless run extended to 13 games.

Southampton defender Maya Yoshida’s first Premier League goal for 14 months inspired a 3-1 win over struggling Crystal Palace at St Mary’s.

Christian Benteke’s 31st minute strike put Palace ahead, but Nathan Redmond equalised on the stroke of half-time.
Japan’s Yoshida netted in the 84th minute and James Ward-Prowse got the third moments later.


Juventus reached their third consecutive domestic cup final with an aggregate win over rivals Napoli.


The Catalans were absolutely rampant.


The Cherries halted Liverpool’s Champions League charge as Joshua King snatched a late leveller in a thrilling contest at Anfield.


Three last-gasp goals in six second-half minutes completed a remarkable turnaround for the Whites as they kept the pressure firmly on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.

It was a truly stunning finale to the match and Spurs once again proved they are the real deal.


The Frenchman wrapped up the Gunners’ comfortable home victory over West Ham with a curling third goal.


The Argentine delivered a masterclass for Barca and scored his 28th and 29th goals against Sevilla (in 30 appearances) – the team he has found the back of the net against more than any other opponent.

Messi very much picked up from where he left off before his suspension and is deservedly our player of the day.


On his 100th appearance for Chelsea, the Belgian’s poor kick to David Silva led to Manchester City’s equalising goal through Sergio Aguero.

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COMMENT: Talk of Iniesta decline is exaggerated

Andy West 5/04/2017
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Club legend: Iniesta.

What has happened to Andres Iniesta? That is one of the big questions on the lips of Barcelona fans, who are becoming increasingly concerned by the sight of their iconic captain spending most of his time sitting on the bench.

Iniesta has only started eight league games all season, totalling fewer minutes (814) than 17 other Barca players including Jeremy Mathieu, Lucas Digne and Denis Suarez.

Although he has suffered injury problems over the course of the campaign, he is now fully fit – and has been since early February – but still cannot force his way into the starting line-up, playing only 25 minutes at Granada on Sunday and starting just once since the dramatic Champions League comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain.

Speaking of that Camp Nou Miracle, it is also notable that Iniesta was not even on the pitch when it happened.

Although he did start the game, when manager Luis Enrique decided to freshen his pack shortly after PSG scored in the second half, Iniesta’s name was the first he called to be replaced as Arda Turan was thrown into the fray.

The fact that Barca achieved their greatest success of the season with Iniesta sitting on the bench, watching powerless as his teammates completed their unbelievable comeback, could be seen as symbolic – an indication that the dribbling wizard’s days as his team’s midfield lynchpin will soon be over.

Not so fast. Iniesta should not be written off yet, because there are two important mitigating factors behind the underwhelming season he has delivered so far.

Firstly, those injuries. He missed six weeks of action after getting a nasty kick from Enzo Perez at Valencia in October, and had two briefer spells on the sidelines in August and January.

Vuelve la Liga!!! Força Barça! 📸@miguelruizfcb

A post shared by Andres Iniesta (@andresiniesta8) on

For any player, finding your rhythm after three injury-enforced absences is difficult, and that’s especially the case when you consider the second factor behind Iniesta’s relatively poor form: his age.

He will be 33 next month, and a decade-plus of relentless achievement for club and country are understandably taking their toll.

In modern football, it’s unrealistic to expect a player of that age to continue to play at their peak once they are into their thirties, particularly for midfielders who, by the nature of their position, generally cover more ground than anyone else.

So although his lack of appearances this season have been partially due injuries, it is also the result of careful foresight from manager Luis Enrique.

This time last year, Barca ran out of gas, were knocked out of the Champions League and nearly lost a big lead over Real Madrid in La Liga.

Enrique has learned from that experience and wants his players – especially physically vulnerable ones like Iniesta – to be at their best in April and May rather than January and February.

The season’s most important games are still ahead of us and, barring any more injuries, when Barca run out against Juventus in the Champions League next week, and against Real Madrid in El Clasico on April 23, Iniesta is sure to be leading them out from the front.

He cannot play 50 games per season anymore. But he can still play 25, and he is reaching the key phase of the campaign physically fresh. Expect him to roll back the years in the next few weeks.

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