The first true heavyweight clash of the La Liga season takes place in the Spanish capital on Saturday night as Atletico Madrid host near neighbours Real Madrid.
Both teams gained morale-boosting midweek wins ahead of the encounter, with Atletico triumphing 2-0 at Mallorca while Real prevailed by the same scoreline at home to Osasuna.
That victory was enough to take Zinedine Zidane’s men to the top of the table, but Diego Simeone’s side would leapfrog them by coming out on top at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Let’s check out some of the big talking points ahead of an explosive showdown.
Real on a roll?
Just a week ago, the walls appeared to be closing in on Zidane after his team suffered a humbling Champions League defeat at Paris Saint-Germain, with the scale of the defeat and the nature of the performance leading to speculation that club president Florentino Perez was already planning to dispense with Zidane and re-recruit Jose Mourinho.
However, two wins have turned that picture around, as Los Blancos reasserted themselves by earning a gritty 1-0 victory at Sevilla on Sunday night before comfortably seeing off Osasuna in midweek.
Most importantly, Zidane’s men were able to restrict their opponents to zero shots on target in both games, achieving a massive defensive improvement following a shambolic display in Paris just a few days earlier.
In terms of personnel, Zidane will probably be forced into fielding versatile Nacho at left-back with Ferland Mendy definitely ruled out and Marcelo facing a race against time, while Raphael Varane should return to partner Sergio Ramos in the middle despite an eye-catching performance from Eder Militao in the win against Osasuna.
Irrespective of the specific players picked, however, Zidane will be looking for the same serious attitude and organisation throughout the team as they attempt to claim a third consecutive clean sheet.
Costa and Joao back in the goals
Simeone’s selection for the game was simplified in midweek when striker Alvaro Morata was sent off at Mallorca, meaning he will be suspended for the derby and leaving Diego Costa and Joao Felix as certain starters.
It hasn’t been a particularly strong start to the season for either striker, with Portuguese wonderkid Felix showing flashes of his obvious talent without delivering on a consistent basis, while Costa looked out of touch and lacking confidence in front of goal.
However, both players got on the scoresheet in the win at Mallorca, with Costa finally breaking a six-month spell of failing to score in La Liga, while Felix netted his second goal of the season.
Simeone will be hoping that is the start of something special between two players who look capable of forming a formidable partnership on paper, but have rarely done so on the pitch so far. If Felix’s creativity and Costa’s power can be harnessed to work in harmony, Real’s task in seeking that third straight clean sheet will be a tough one indeed.
There are bigger selection dilemmas in midfield, where Simeone has to select two from Thomas Partey, Marcos Llorente, Vitolo and Thomas Lemar to play alongside Saul and Koke. Partey performed well in the victory at Mallorca and would give the team added defensive presence, while wingers Vitolo and Lemar would provide more of an attacking spark. Considering the opposition and the occasion, Simeone may well prefer the former to the latter.
Wings hold the key?
From a tactical perspective, the wings will play a major part in deciding which team dominates the game.
Atletico full-backs Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi play a vital role in their team’s attacking strategy, with both encouraged to add width and penetration by making forceful bursts down their flanks, as well as delivering a steady stream of crosses towards Costa and Felix.
However, they will have their hands full in nullifying the attacking threat posed by Real wingers Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale, who should be in good physical shape after being rested by Zidane for the midweek win over Osasuna.
It’s a big opportunity for Hazard in particular to make his first major mark as a Real player, but if he fails to shine Zidane has a tough decision a Brazilian starlet on the bench. Vinicius Junior started against Osasuna and opened the scoring with a fine solo strike for his first goal of the season.
Meanwhile, Rodrygo Goes was even more impressive after emerging from the bench to score a fine second goal on his competitive debut. However, Zidane has revealed Rodrygo will be playing for Castilla this weekend.
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