Madrid derby danger: Real recovery against Atletico?
Real Madrid, evens to lift La Liga, will need to shake off the cobwebs from the international break and make a statement of intent against current holders and capital competitors Atletico Madrid.
History certainly favours Real, who have won 25 of their 38 league clashes with Atleti, and are odds-on favourites at 8/11 to claim all three points again.
After suffering a shock 4-2 defeat to Real Sociedad last time out, Los Blancos cannot afford to be rusty, and have no room for error after Barcelona’s brilliant start to the campaign. It may still be early days, but if the Bernabeu giants are to keep pace with Luis Enrique’s side, every point and game will be crucial.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s mooted return to the Real ranks will be a significant boost, despite continued rumours of a potential transfer back to the Premier League.
Los Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti certainly believes he can rely on Ronaldo, who is 10/3 to make an instant impact by firing home first, or 7/2 to score two or more.
Speaking recently, Ancelotti stated: “My confidence lies on two pillars: I have a group of professionals that are very concentrated and Cristiano [Ronaldo] scores a goal a game.”
Real’s attack will not be Ancelotti’s main concern heading into this encounter, though, after Real topped the La Liga scoring charts last season with 104 goals. Whilst superstar Ronaldo contributed by hitting home an impressive 31 times, Los Blancos have also added further firepower to their squad this summer.
On loan Manchester United and Mexico hitman Javier Hernandez is unlikely to secure a spot in the starting XI over Karim Benzema just yet, but could feature from the bench. The poacher nicknamed ‘Little Green Pea’ is 5/1 to score last, or 7/2 to bag a brace or more on his debut.
Colombia World Cup hero and Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez is yet to open his league account, and fans will be expecting him to step up to the plate and prove his acquisition was worth the loss of Angel Di Maria. Rodriguez is 23/10 to hit home anytime in front of the fearsome Bernabeu faithful, and silence early doubters.
Gareth Bale and vice-captain Sergio Ramos were Los Blancos’ scorers last time out, and also netted for their nations over the international break, making them 17/10 and 11/2 to net anytime respectively.
With the Champions League holders overloaded with top quality attacking options, it will be the resilience of their defence and lack of a solid midfield base which should be of more concern to Ancelotti. After conceding an eyebrow-raising four goals in their last game, Real look likely to miss the lung-busting runs and industry of Argentina international Di Maria.
Fans feared that the sales of versatile attacker Di Maria and midfield shield Xabi Alonso would leave them soft in the centre, with maestros Luka Modric and Toni Kroos lacking in bite and dynamism. With Sami Khedira suffering a further injury setback, Los Blancos will have to hope the Germany star can make a swift return to offer them an alternative option.
He will certainly not return in time to face an energetic Atletico midfield renowned for their never-say-die spirit, grit and determination, though, a factor which may propel Diego Simeone’s men on to victory.
Real right back Dani Carvajal is facing a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, meaning Ancelotti may have to reshuffle his pack. Ex-Liverpool defender Alvero Arbeloa may slot in to save centre back Ramos from being moved back to his old position.
This encounter will be the third time Los Blancos and Atleti have duelled this season, after the two teams competed for the Spanish Super Cup.
Diego Simeone’s well-drilled side secured the spoils by out-battling Real over two legs, and are 4/1 to taste victory over the Champions League holders once again.
Ancelotti’s defensive woes should play into the hands of Atleti, who appear to be in bullish form as they continue to defend their La Liga crown and sit one point above their capital rivals.
In contrast to Real’s swashbuckling style, the Vicente Calderon outfit conceded the least La Liga goals last season, with their controlled approach bearing fruit, and appears their successful style is not set to change anytime soon.
Speaking ahead of the clash, loan star Cristian Ansaldi said: “We will keep playing the same way.”
“Many people are bothered by the way Atletico Madrid play, but that just make us happy. If they are annoyed by something, well we are just going to keep playing this way. We like it.”
Prolific striker Mario Mandzukic, recruited to fill the departed Diego Costa’s boots, has already made a bright start to his Atletico career and will be looking to pounce on any defensive frailties. He is 13/5 to score anytime, or 40/1 to hit a hat-trick against Real. Fellow new signing Antoine Griezzman is also available at 10/1 to strike first for the underdogs.
Los Blancos cannot afford to fall to their bitter opponents again this season, and to do so for the second time within a month would surely lead to serious questions.