The much-awaited Derbi Madrileño between the Spanish capital’s two biggest clubs gets underway on Saturday when Atlético Madrid head out to the Santiago Bernabéu to face off against Real Madrid.
The clash kicks-off at 22:00 CET.
“Madrid is only red and white,” read an enormous banner displayed by Atlético supporters just outside los Rojiblancos’ training facilities in Majadahonda on Thursday.
Audacious words considering the over decade-long hex the ‘only-Whites’ have imposed on their city rivals, but perhaps justifiable given the present eight-point lead Atleti have over Real in the league table, the largest they will take into a derby since the 1995/96 campaign.
Merengue supporters would of course quickly counter with an arsenal of statistics that anyone would be hard-pressed to argue against.
La Liga’s reigning champions have defeated Atlético the last eight times the sides have met in all competitions, taking their unbeaten streak against los Colchoneros up to 23 games with last season’s pair of 4-1 triumphs.
23 games. That’s 2,070 minutes of football. Painfully humbling numbers for the Manzanares camp.
But Indio boss Diego Simeone, who has radically changed the culture of the club in less than a year at the helm, leading his men to 17 wins in 20 matches in the present term and banishing the inconsistency that has plagued Atlético since their return to Primera División in 2002, says to hell with those numbers.
“We don’t get bogged down in statistics, and all winning or losing streaks must come to an end at some point,” he told reporters on Friday.
“We have to be prepared for the game and be committed. I don’t dwell on the past, I just think about what’s coming next, and we will try and by playing to our strengths we will try to win the three points.”
The Atleti icon announced he would open up the final practice session, to be held at the Vicente Calderón 10 hours before proceedings get underway across town, to the Rojiblanco faithful, explaining that “feeling the energy of the fans is excellent”.
“The derby is a fantastic occasion and really gets the pulse racing,” the Argentine tactician said.
“It’s not worth nine points, it’s just another three points, but we know how much this game means to so many people and we have to show we are competitive and put in a good performance. They are our biggest rivals and they go into the game desperate for points, like any team that has lost their last game.”
After falling away to Valencia for their first loss of the season and following up that performance with a defeat in Portugal to Académica de Coimbra in Europa League group play, Simeone’s hombres have quietly bounced back to put together a five-game win streak in all competitions, though they loudly pounded Sevilla 4-0 last Sunday at a throbbing Calderón.
While ‘El Cholo’ symbolically called up all 22 first team squad members, super-sub Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez has been ruled out with a hamstring injury sustained in midweek Copa del Rey action against Real Jaén.
The rest of the tribe will be at Simeone’s disposal.
It’s been a rough couple of days for José Mourinho, whose Liga title-holding side suffered their third league defeat of the season at the hands of Betis last Saturday and find themselves a daunting 11 points away from top-of-the-table Barcelona.
The Portuguese manager was even jeered at home by spectators in attendance for Real’s Copa del Rey bout on Tuesday.
So while Atleti are normally the ones entering this encounter with a huge chip on their shoulder — that will no doubt still be the case — the pressure is on los Blancos to re-establish their dominance in Madrid and avoid a 14-point gap between themselves and Barça.
Raúl Albiol, Michael Essien, Marcelo, and Gonzalo Higuaín will all be unavailable through injury.
For Atlético fans, Real Madrid seem ripe for the picking, but Cholo remains very cautious.
“We are up against the league champions,” he warned.
“I look at a team in terms of the players they have and not in terms of their position in the league. Madrid are a powerful team based on very strong individual players. We’ll have to work as a team and try and hurt them.”
Yeah boys, hurt them.
Atlético Madrid match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo, Joel
Defenders: Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe Luís, Cata Díaz, Cisma, Sílvio, Pulido
Midfielders: Emre, Raúl García, Koke, Arda, Tiago, Gabi, Mario, Cebolla
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Real Madrid match selection: TBA
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco