Madrid derby: First 'real' test for Falcao led Atletico?

Atletico are flying high this season, however their first real test will be up against bitter rivals Real Madrid. Are Falcao and Co. ready for it?
 Kishen Patel
 Analysis | La Liga
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Saturday will see the first El Derbi Madrileno of this season in which Real Madrid will host Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. This fixture is immensely important simply because of its magnitude. If the Galacticos lose, they will be 14 points adrift of Barcelona whereas if the Rojiblancos lose, it will still signify that there’s nothing stopping the Catalan giants from winning the league title. It’s hard to remember when Atletico Madrid were last favourites to win the derby.

Atletico have not emerged victorious from the Bernabeu since 1999, when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored twice in a 3-1 victory. Coincidently, that was also the last time that Atletico travelled to the Bernabeu looking down on their hosts in the table. Moreover, they have gone into a derby with an eight-point advantage in the table just three times in their history - 1947-48, 1976-77 and 1995-96 - and won two of those games. In 1995-96 it finished 1-0 to Atletico, with none other than Diego Pablo Simeone scrapping in midfield, during a season which ended with the team claiming their most recent La Liga title, and the Argentine winning Spain's Player of the Year award.

Diego Simeone has started a revolution with his determined and intensity filled team. They have not only ground out important one goal margin victories but also ruthlessly punished few opponents. Their success can largely be attributed to their manager as well as their Colombian striker.

Since taking over last January, Simeone’s Atletico have 36 wins from 51 games, with eight draws and just seven defeats across all competitions enroute to winning the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup. Simeone has instilled a tough and warrior-like mentality in his players which has helped them greatly. The Argentine was known as an ultra committed player during his playing days for the club. Not only that but Simeone has utilized and rotated his squad well throughout the campaign. Even though they may not have the strongest squad on paper, Atletico have managed to sail through the group stages of the Europa League and remain only three points adrift of leaders Barcelona.

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Apart from Simeone, El Tigre has also been extremely influential in Atletico’s success so far. Falcao’s goal scoring threat is only matched by few in Europe and the Colombian forward is extremely confident of a victory on Saturday. Falcao has so far managed 11 goals from 12 league starts whereas Cristiano Ronaldo has 12 goals to his name from 13 appearances. Real Madrid have struggled to play against the top teams this season and they will probably have troubles in dealing with Falcao too. It will be entertaining to watch who will come out on top in the battle between Pepe/Ramos and Falcao. All three players are extremely good in the air and the one who comes out on top in this situation will likely be ending the match as a winner.

On the other hand, Real’s dip in form cannot reduce their potential threat that too when playing at home. The Bernabeu is Mourinho’s biggest ally as the hosts remain unbeaten at home but Atletico have lost just once on the road (2-0 vs Valencia) this season. Cristiano Ronaldo would be desperate to rediscover his goal scoring touch as the flamboyant Portuguese has just managed one goal in his last six outings for the club.

El Derbi Madrileno will decide if Atletico are really pose a challenge for the title or not. The Rojiblancos sit second in the table but are yet to face any of the big two in the league and their only visit to a probable title contender (Valencia) ended in a defeat. This doesn’t cloud the fact that Atletico have a real chance of taking three points off their biggest rivals but they need to prove it in their first real test of the season.

They did face Chelsea in the Super Cup and managed to beat them easily but it wouldn’t be fair to use Chelsea as a marker to measure Atletico’s potential given the London club’s poor form this season.

Atletico Madrid need to work as a team on Saturday if they want a positive result in the derby. Left back Felipe Luis has been enjoying a rich vein of form recently and he will be romping up and down the left flank. Felipe is extremely good going forward while simultaneously being defensive tight. Angel Di Maria will probably need to work his socks off to get the better of his Atletico marker.

On the other flank, Juanfran will need to be assisted by Arda Turan in his quest to stop Cristiano Ronaldo. Uruguayan defender Diego Godin has been the lynchpin in Atletico’s defence which has conceded only 11 goals in 13 league games, only to be bettered by Real Madrid and Malaga who have given away 10 and 9 goals respectively. The Rojiblancos have managed to keep three clean sheets in their last three games and would be delighted to keep one at the Bernabeu, a place where Real average 3 goals per match from their last 17 matches.

An entertaining Saturday awaits us as Mourinho and Co. will be looking to avoid embarrassment in front of their home crowd. Atletico Madrid will be looking for their first victory at the Bernabeu since 1999 and they will leave no stone unturned in their quest. If Atletico win, the La Liga will have a new contender for the title and if not, Simeone will to do some thinking and a possible Falcao exit would only deepen the crisis.

Mourinho simply cannot afford to widen the gap between themselves and the top two teams as it would further dampen their prospects of retaining their league title. The ‘Special One’ will be looking to reduce the gap between his side and their neighbours down to five points and steer the Galacticos to their “rightful” place; above Atletico Madrid. What bigger occasion than doing it in El Derbi Madrileno...

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