Los Blancos meet los Colchoneros in derby action...
It may not quite match the glamour or generate the same interest as el Clasico, but Real Madrid’s derby encounter against Atletico Madrid means a great deal to Spain’s capital city.
The Bernabeu will play host to the latest Derbi Madrileno, which will be the 146th league meeting between these two great rivals. Unsurprisingly, it’s los Blancos who hold the historical upper hand, having recorded 79 victories in total. Jose Mourinho, in his first taste of the city rivalry, will attempt to make it a round 80.
‘Mou’ is as yet unbeaten as los Merengues’ coach, though he came perilously close to losing that record in Milan on Wednesday. Madrid trailed their hosts 2-1 deep into stoppage time, but a late strike from Pedro Leon saved the Spaniards, who have been getting into their stride after a sluggish start to the season. That late goal allows the Spaniards to relax in their last two games with the knowledge that a place in the knock-out round is secure.
Criticised initially for not scoring enough goals, Mourinho’s men are now regularly giving cause for their fans to celebrate. Los Blancos have found the net 19 times in their last four league encounters, though they were forced to come from behind to defeat Hercules last weekend, with Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo (twice) digging them out on that occasion.
It may be four Liga games since los Merengues kept a clean sheet, and that will doubtless irk the coach, but all of those matches have been won with some considerable ease, and the hosts will feel confident of scoring a fifth successive success come Sunday night. Perfect at home this season, Atleti will not be allowed to spoil Real Madrid’s party.
After a bright start to the campaign, it’s all gone a little pear shaped for Quique Sanchez Flores, the Atletico Madrid coach and godson of Blancos great Alfredo Di Stefano. Wins over Sporting Gijon and Athletic Bilbao in their opening two fixtures had the critics frothing with anticipation, but Atleti’s season quickly descended towards the mundane.
A 2-1 home loss against Barcelona, during which they rarely got near their Catalan guests, was the catalyst for a dose of realism, which has since manifested itself in rather bleak statistics, such as two wins in the club’s last seven league matches.
Even in the Europa League, los Colchoneros have not started the defence of their crown like champions. They have, however, got themselves back into contention to reach the knock-out stages by recording back-to-back wins over Rosenborg, including a 2-1 success on Thursday evening, which came about thanks to goals from Sergio Aguero and Tiago.
Going to the Bernabeu is, of course, a special trip for Madrid’s second most successful side, but there can be little doubt that the intimidating venue often gets the better of Atleti, who seem to suffer from bouts of derby nerves when they meet their cross-city rivals. It’s been a decade since los Rojiblancos last beat their neighbours, and unless they can raise their present level on Sunday night, that statistic is set to be extended for at least another few months.
Kaka remains on the sidelines for los Blancos; the Brazilian superstar has yet to kick a ball in anger this season. Ezequiel Garay and Fernando Gago are the other absentees.
Luis Perea has picked up five yellow cards and will be suspended for this encounter.
Long-term injury problem Sergio Asenjo is still absent, while Diego Godin will be a crucial absentee from the centre of the rearguard. Jose Antonio Reyes sustained a muscular problem last weekend and missed out in midweek; he is a doubt for the weekend.