Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid come into Saturday evening’s Spanish capital ‘derbi’ at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano with different sensations but with all still very much to play for in this most open and unpredictable of LaLiga Santander title races.
Atletico have been in excellent form recently, and remain the only unbeaten team in LaLiga Santander, following an impressive run of results including their 1-0 victory over Barcelona in mid-November. Meanwhile, Real Madrid have been more inconsistent and were surprisingly downed by D. Alaves in their last LaLiga game at their temporary home at their Valdebebas training ground.
Coach Zinedine Zidane’s attempts to put a run of results together have not been helped by injuries to key players including captain Sergio Ramos, attackers Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema and midfielder Fede Valvderde, although the Frenchman is hopeful that most of his key stars will soon return.
Among the Blancos squad members to have stood out recently are veteran midfielder Luka Modric and versatile winger or full-back Lucas Vazquez, while forwards Mariano Diaz and Vinicius Junior have shown sharpness in front of goal.
Over at Atletico, Portuguese starlet Joao Felix has found his feet in his second season in LaLiga, while winger Yannick Carrasco has been in flying form and new striker Luis Suarez was scoring regularly before his unfortunate COVID-19 enforced absence recently.
Diego Simeone’s side remain lock-tight in defence too, with Montenegro international Stefan Savic a rock at the back and goalkeeper Jan Oblak having conceded just two goals through the first nine LaLiga games (before Valladolid at weekend).
Recent LaLiga ‘derbis’ have tended to be tight and tactical affairs. Benzema scored the only goal in a 1-0 Real Madrid win in their most recent meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu in February, while the reverse fixture at the Wanda Metropolitano last season finished goalless.
Zidane has an excellent head-to-head record against Simeone in LaLiga, with Atletico’s last win against the neighbours in LaLiga coming in February 2016, soon after the Frenchman began his first spell as Blancos coach.
Saturday’s game should be especially emotional for Atletico duo Marcos Llorente and Mario Hermoso, who both came through the ranks at Real Madrid and will know the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium well having played there many times for Madrid’s Castilla youth side earlier in their careers.
Blancos playmaker Martin Odegaard is a former teammate of both Llorente and Hermoso with Castilla and scored against Atletico during a man of the match performance in a 2-0 LaLiga victory for Real Sociedad when on loan at the Basque club last season.
Both Real Madrid and Atletico will come into Saturday’s game after busy schedules including Champions League exertions midweek, but they will be fully focused on the latest episode of one of the most historic club rivalries in all of world football.
The form book often goes out the window once the first whistle goes in such games, and further drama and excitement is assured, whatever the latest ‘derbi’ result.