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Spanish Inquisition: Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid - A Tale Of One City

There's something about Atletico Madrid that doesn't seem quite right.

They are the third biggest club in Spain and are also the third most supported. They are a club with history and tradition and are the only side besides Barcelona to have achieved the league and Cup double since the 1990's. Supporting them is, as one columnist so neatly puts it, "an emotion" that lingers even in times of defeats, which says a lot about not jumping onto the bandwagon of any club that wins something every other year.

But Atletico Madrid are also a mess, and a bloody mess at that. They have had nine coaches in six years and five (including Santi Denia) since 2006. They triumphed in La Liga and the Copa del Rey in 1996 but went down in 2000. They returned to the Spanish top flight in 2002 and managed a Champions League spot only after their first major superstar of this decade Fernando Torres left the side. Atleti are third from bottom in the league and in midweek crashed out of this year's edition of Europe's top-tier club competition.

Gauging Atletico's Chances

And it couldn't get worse because now comes the Madrid derby - El Derbi Madrileno - arguably the second biggest game in the Spanish capital after El Clasico. Admittedly, even donkeys grow wings during a derby and fly out of the window along with the form book, but when it comes to playing against Real Madrid, Atleti could never convince the scriptwriters to even think of them favourably.

The last time Atletico won against their more illustrious neighbours was in 1999-2000 and that season Los Colchoneros dropped to the Segunda Division. Since their return to the Spanish top flight, they have not won against Los Blancos, although they have come close on a number of occasions.

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And it would be a fool's errand to run to the nearest betting arena and place a few precious quids on the 'other club from Madrid' to nick it on Saturday. Because, let's admit it, they will not.

Some would say that Atleti are too good to go down and with some of the midfielders and strikers they have, they are indeed too good to be demoted. But as was proved in 1999-2000 by Real Betis when they went down despite having the expensive Denilson, big name players do not guarantee success, or survival for that matter, especially for a club like Atletico where boardroom disagreements and power struggles paralyse the entire functioning.

The team is quite unbalanced and are appalling at the back. Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero are there but like the past few seasons there's not a creative midfielder. They have brilliant wide players in Simao and Maxi but there's no one to penetrate, and although Aguero and Forlan are truly world class strikers, they cannot create as well score all the time. Which makes winning at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday quite a task.

Only if Real Madrid decide not to blow it up.

Weighing Madrid's Chances

For all talks of crisis at the world's most media-scrutinised club, Los Blancos have lost only three games - only one in the league, which is why they are just a solitary point behind leaders Barcelona. But the problem is that two of those three games were the biggest they have featured in so far; a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla raising suspicions that their squad is not as dominant as some of the earlier results had implied and then the 3-2 'humiliation' at home by Milan denting their Champions League credentials.

The game against Atletico would be their fourth biggest of the season and like in the last few matches in all competitions, they would be without Cristiano Ronaldo. Not that this should be an excuse, but the Ballon d'Or winner was supposed to fill the gap between Barcelona and Madrid and although the likes of Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema have reduced the void to just one point, it is Ronaldo who could put Barca behind.

No Ronaldo, Big Problem?

Whether it is coincidental that Manuel Pellegrini's side have lost the matches in which the former Manchester United star has not featured in is open to debate but there's no doubt that they have looked wane in the absence of the world's most expensive footballer. At the start of the season, Madrid won seven games in a row in all competitions and were at one point top of the table in Spain and top of their group in the Champions League.

But since the start of October when they were hacked at Sevilla, things have taken a dip towards the south and Pellegrini's job has been - and still is - under threat. The consensus is that Madrid have bottled up in the big games, which they have, but all the major players except CR9 would be available for the derby and after the first half performance against Milan in midweek they would be raring to go out on the pitch.

Defeating an 18th-placed side just a few miles across the city wouldn't necessarily demand knowledge of rocket science but the fact that this is a derby could work against them. Also, everyone knows that Aletico would not go down and that under Quique Sanchez Flores results would improve.

And what better way to improve than to garner a victory over their arch rivals Real Madrid?

Subhankar Mondal,