Atlético face off against bitter rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabéu on Sunday in the first Madrid derby of the season.
The challenge will be one of staggering proportions for Los Colchoneros, who will place a great deal of hope on the unpredictability of these cross-town affairs.
But in recent years the meeting of the two biggest sides in Madrid has been anything but unpredictable. Over the last decade, the result of the capital city derby has become a bit of a foregone conclusion. Atleti never wins.
We last defeated our eternal rival in October of 1999, ironically, in our relegation bound campaign. We have taken part in 17 derbies since then without laying claim to a single victory.
This one won’t be any easier. Real Madrid have played a mean host this season, absolutely trouncing all visitors to their stadium. Los Blancos average four goals per game and concede less than one per match at home.
Not overwhelmed yet? Ok…well, consider this: new Real boss José Mourinho has yet to taste defeat in any competition while at the helm of Los Merengues.
‘The Special One’ currently holds a mind-blowing 140-game unbeaten home record dating back to February of 2002, when he suffered his first and only defeat on home turf.
In arguably its toughest challenge yet following a pair of lacklustre showings in domestic and European action, Atleti will have to make do without Diego Godín and the highly-erratic-though-mostly-reliable Luis Amaranto Perea.
Quique will be forced to field the most inexperienced version of his back-line against the most prolific offensive powerhouse in Spain, which is led by current Pichichi leader Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo enters the clash having scored at least two goals in four consecutive Liga matches, a Real Madrid record. The Portuguese international will be supported in the attack by lethal strike partner Gonzalo Higuaín, along with Mesut Özil and Ángel di María, who have both made sparkling starts to their Real Madrid careers.
To add to our troubles, three of our crucial starters will go into the game bandaged and bruised, though fortunately they are all expected to start.
José Antonio Reyes, a former Real Madrid player who struck first in our 2-3 loss against Los Blancos back in March, was ruled out of our midweek clash at Rosenborg with a calf injury. The winger was able to practise with his team-mates in Friday’s final training session and is set to feature.
Álvaro Domínguez reportedly felt soreness in his left ankle after the trip to Norway and will likely be at less than 100 per cent for this clash. Atlético B centre-back Jorge Pulido will remain with the first team and just might feature if Domínguez is unfit to play.
Diego Forlán suffered a minor ankle sprain on Tuesday but was healthy enough to play the final half hour at Trondheim. Ankle soreness, though, is probably the least of our Uruguayan superstar’s troubles.
The 31-year old’s primary objective will be to put one past Madrid keeper Iker Casillas and finally put an end to the goalless streak that has haunted him for 11 games now.
A major plus for Los Rojiblancos was the departure of Real Madrid legend Raúl Gonzalez to Schalke, where he now plays alongside former Atleti man José Manuel Jurado.
Raúl was always a threat in the 27 derbies he played in. Yesterday, the 33-year old bagged a brace for his German club and will remain at a safe distance from the Santiago Bernabéu.
As Enrique Cerezo told MARCA yesterday, “He will not be missed.”
Interestingly, Atleti has scored first in the last four derbies held in the Bernabéu but has coughed up the lead each time. If the streak of striking first is taken to five, let’s hope our boys can muster the strength to fend off the opposition and gut out the result.
Quique’s men will have to enlist their every ounce of grit, courage and determination if they want to topple their league-leading adversaries and close back in on the top pack of the Primera División. It’s a tall order but as we all well know, our Atleti is capable of anything.
-The number of players that will lineup for each team, barring another freak injury for Atleti.
-The number of years since Atlético’s last derby victory, which occurred on October 30,1999.
-The number of losses Los Rojiblancos have suffered to Real Madrid since their last derby win.
-The number of goals Raúl scored in his 27 derby appearances before departing to Germany.
-The number of games Forlán has gone without scoring, his longest drought while in Spain.
-The number of goals Cristiano Ronaldo has amassed in just nine Liga matches this season.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea and Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luís, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Perea and Pulido
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Camacho, Raúl García, Fran Mérida, Assunçao and Simão
Forwards: Forlán, Agüero and Diego Costa
Real Madrid match selection:
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas, Adán and Isaac
Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Arbeloa, Carvalho, Pepe, Raúl Albiol and Marcelo
Midfielders: M. Diarra, Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Pedro León, Canales, Granero, Özil and Di María
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuaín
Real Madrid: Casillas; Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe, Marcelo; Khedira, Xabi Alonso; Di María, Özil, Ronaldo; and Higuaín.
Atlético: De Gea; López, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Filipe; Reyes, Tiago, Assunção, Simão; Forlán and Agüero.
Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz
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