Real Madrid supporters used to drape a huge banner behind the south goal at the Bernabeu to ridicule their city neighbours ahead of Madrid derbies. It read:
‘Wanted: respectable rival for a decent derby’.
Atletico were on a 13-year run of never having beaten Real at the time. Those were the dark days before the man in black, Diego Simeone, took charge of the team. These are very different times.
In the last six derbies in the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid have only won one meeting between the two sides. Atletico have won three of the games – including the Copa del Rey final in 2013 when Jose Mourinho’s team lost 2-1 and Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off.
MADRID DERBIES SINCE 2012
- Atletico Madrid wins: 6
- Real Madrid wins: 5
- Draws: 5
That win seemed to turn the tide in the city and this weekend’s derby will be decided in midfield. Atletico midfielders Saul, Gabi, Koke and Augustin Fernandez could probably all start for Real.
Real manager Zinedine Zidane has to be worried about getting over-run in midfield. His need to pick all the stars means Real Madrid always tend to favor a 4-3-3 and it’s often a Luka Modric-Toni Kroos-Isco combination that lacks a natural holder.
In big games like this, who scores first is usually important, but it is even more critical here because of the strengths of each site.
Real will not want Atletico to score first either – their defence is the hardest in La Liga to break down. But if Zidane’s side go ahead they will fancy their chances because Atletico have scored only half as many goals as them this season.
Fernando Torres and company have now gone 269 minutes without scoring and even the prolific Griezmann, who has 17 for the season, is struggling to find the back of the net. With so much at stake for both sides it is likely to be a cagey affair.
If Atletico lose and Barcelona beat Sevilla on Sunday then Simeone’s team will be 11 points adrift of the leaders. If Real Madrid lose the derby and Barca win, Zidane’s side will be 12 points behind the Catalans.
Either way, one half of the city will be out of the title race. Too much caution will also be a mistake, however, as a point is of no use to either side. Honours were shared earlier in the season and then-Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez was heavily criticised for trying to protect a one-goal lead.
Asked on Friday if losing would be like saying ‘adios’ to La Liga, Zidane said:
‘No, we will still keep fighting until the end of the season.’ But he will know that it really will be time for pessimism to take hold if they do not pick up all three points.