Los Blancos are in the derby hotseat but won’t take anything for granted against los Colchoneros...
Atletico Madrid may live to regret conceding a late goal to Mesut Oezil during a hugely exciting Derbi madrileno at the Bernabeu last week. Los Colchoneros had stunned the Real Madrid crown by moving into a 1-0 advantage thanks to Diego Forlan, but their derby jitters ultimately got the better of them, losing goals from Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo before the German’s late flourish gave Jose Mourinho’s men a 3-1 lead to protect on Wednesday night.
It’s been over a decade since los Rojiblancos tasted success over their great rivals, and incredibly it’s been nine meetings at the Vicente Calderon since los Blancos were last vanquished – the visitors winning seven of those matches. The weight of history is therefore on the shoulders of Quique Sanchez Flores’ side.
But there is more than simply history playing against Atleti. Recent form has meant that the former Benfica coach has come under intense scrutiny from above, leading him to comment prior to Monday’s Primera Division encounter against Mallorca that he felt he had two games to save his job.
In that regard, it’s so far so good for the ex-Real Madrid player. Els Barralets were dispatched 3-0 on Monday night, with Jose Antonio Reyes the pick of the outfield players, allowing los Colchoneros to move to sixth in the standings, albeit seven points behind the Champions League spots.
While a two goal deficit is far from ideal, an away goal gives Atleti a fighting chance of causing an upset and maintaining Sanchez Flores’ perfect record in two-legged ties since taking the helm of the capital side.
Winning Is Vital
Derby joy for Real Madrid was quickly tinged with Primera Division frustration as los Blancos failed to keep pace with Barcelona at the weekend, slipping up badly against bottom club Almeria. It could have been worse for Jose Mourinho’s side, who had trailed 1-0, but after equalising in the closing stages they were left exasperated when Cristiano Ronaldo’s terrific stoppage time free kick clattered the bar.
Now four points behind the Liga leaders, there is little room for error. Nevertheless, that is not expected to prevent Mourinho deploying a very strong side on Thursday evening, when los Merengues look to secure a spot in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
The competitive instincts of the Portuguese coach mean that he is treating the cup competition a great deal more seriously than many of his predecessors. Indeed, he was disappointed to only carry a two-goal advantage across the city to the Vicente Calderon.
“I always tell my players that it is important to win, but it is also paramount to win by big margins,” ‘Mou’ told the press. “I liked winning 3-1, but thought we could have tried a little harder and done more to score another goal.”
Winning breeds confidence, and after their Sunday mishap, Madrid could certainly use getting quickly back onto the right track before meeting Mallorca at the weekend.
Atleti have named a 20-man panel that is without Sergio Aguero due to injury. Mario Suarez and Pulido are still injured, while Antonio Lopez is banned after his straight red card at the weekend.
Despite the draw in Almeria at the weekend, Jose Mourinho has kept faith with the same 20-man panel he named at the weekend. Gonzalo Higuain, Jerzy Dudek and Pepe are missing due to injury once more.