With Barcelona breathing down their necks in the La Liga title race, leaders Real Madrid know nothing less than a win will suffice when derby rivals Atletico Madrid come visiting at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
While 10-points may separate them in the league table, a mere eight kilometres is the distance from the Vicente Calderon to the Santiago Bernabeu, a fact which will be lost on neither side as they seek to gain bragging rights.
The hosts are the favourites for Saturday’s derby game, but as has been proven in the past, Atletico should be written off at your own peril.
Los Blancos are on a six-game winning streak, eking out result after result despite talisman Cristiano Ronaldo not enjoying the finest of seasons. The fact that he has still managed to score 19 goals in the league alone just proves that even while diminished, the Portuguese is a lethal forward.
Giving him company will be the fit-again Gareth Bale, who has been inconsistent since his return from injury in February and needs to give the world a timely reminder of his ability with a display worthy of his price-tag against the Rojiblancos.
Madrid’s problem area isn’t their attack, as they almost always manage to outscore their opponents, rather it is their leaky defence. With Raphael Varane almost always injured, Pepe and Sergio Ramos at the heart of the defence with the error-prone Keylor Navas do not exactly inspire confidence.
Apart from Varane, Real have no injury concerns and as an extra bit of good news, they were able to rest most of their stars in the midweek win over Leganes, which means Ronaldo and co will be fresh and ready for Ateltico’s visit.
As has been the norm in many Madrid derbies since Diego Simeone took over, the Rojiblancos will defend deep and look to hit their rivals on the counter.
Key to their attack will be Antoine Griezmann and while the Frenchman is a superb player, he cannot do it all on his own. Atletico’s Spanish brigade (Koke and Saul Niguez) need to deliver a performance that belies their reputation if the visitors are to stand a chance of gaining anything from the match. Both the midfielders are fine players but the time for them to regularly churn out performances is here and their displays will be key.
Yannick Carrasco is another player who has improved a lot this season, the Belgian establishing himself as a regular in recent months. But if really wants to be taken seriously for his national squad ahead of next year’s World Cup, he will have to up his game on Saturday.
Atletico have a steely defence but it is the inability to score at times, which holds them back from pushing La Liga’s top two (Real and Barcelona) all the way over the course of an entire season.
They have a few injury concerns, with Kevin Gameiro, Nicolas Gaitan and Sime Vrsaljko all racing against time to get fit for Saturday’s clash at the Bernabeu.
Super Stat: From 2003 to 2012, Real were unbeaten against their rivals, a stretch that spanned 11 games before Atletico finally broke the hoodoo in the 2013 Copa del Rey final!