A spicy quarter-final is anticipated as los Blancos meet their city neighbours...Still Going Strong
The Copa del Rey may not always take top billing for Real Madrid, but Jose Mourinho indicated from the beginning of the competition that he intends to win this crown. If the Portuguese was having any second thoughts about deploying a strong side in the tournament, a derby fixture against Atletico Madrid will compel him to focus firmly on Thursday evening’s quarter-final first leg encounter.
Los Blancos remain on the coattails of Barcelona in the Primera Division, and even a difficult encounter against Villarreal on Sunday evening could not break their momentum. There may have been a good deal of controversy involved, but there could be little doubting the importance of Madrid’s 4-2 success, during which they twice had to recover from behind.
“In the second half, we were the only side in it,” Mourinho told the media following the match, though he was also quick to praise the Yellow Submarine’s first half endeavour.
Already the former Inter and Porto boss has tasted success against Atleti this season, leading his men to a formidable 2-0 success against their cross-town rivals. The final score of that encounter didn’t really reflect the dominance of the Bernabeu club, who felt so comfortable that Cristiano Ronaldo played an audacious pass with his back to Xabi Alonso.
With the winter transfer window open, it might have been expected that los Merengues would be taking up great column inches with rumours of potential signings, but instead they’re taking a back seat and letting their play on the pitch do the talking.
A storm is brewing at the Vicente Calderon, where Atletico Madrid are perceived to be underperforming in the Primera Division. Under pressure coach Quique Sanchez Flores was left frustrated by Monday night’s 4-1 humbling against Hercules in Alicante. From the outset, los Colchoneros were second best, and Jose Antonio Reyes’ late goal was scant consolation on a bleak evening for the capital side.
“I believe my players can do big things... I am confident in them,” Flores told the press prior to Thursday’s encounter against Real Madrid, retaining great faith in his side. “All these years we have not won at Real Madrid can act as a stimulus.”
After a great start to the season, Atleti are rather coming apart at the seams. Only two wins have been gleamed from their last six Primera Division encounters, of which four were played against sides in the bottom half of the table. During this period, they’ve also been embarrassingly eliminated from the Europa League.
Los Rojiblancos have been knock-out specialists under Flores. They’ve yet to lose a two-legged affair under the 45-year-old former Real Madrid right-back, though they have certainly not faced a challenge as great as los Blancos previously.
The squad is set to be supplemented by the addition of exciting Brazilian midfielder Elias, while Juanfran’s signing from Osasuna is another positive sign that a corner may be getting turned in the Arganzuela district of the Spanish capital.
Nevertheless, if Atleti were to end their decade long Derbi jinx on Thursday, it would be a huge shock.
Gonzalo Higuain is expected to miss the next four months due to a back problem. The Argentine striker may not play again this season.
Jerzy Dudek and Pepe are the only other injury concerns.
Alvaro Arbeloa returns after a ban.
New signings Juanfran and Elias have both been named in the 20-strong squad to travel to the Bernabeu.
Quique Sanchez Flores has no fresh injury worries from Monday’s loss.