Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid | Wednesday 22 April | Santiago Bernabeu | 20:45
All conquering Real Madrid face the very real possibility of an early end to their Champions League defence. Unable to net an away goal, Real have a host of injury concerns that seem to be tipping the balance in favour of their city rivals. Atletico have not lost in seven encounters against Real, developing a game-plan that nullifies Real’s attacking threats. Atletico know that if they were to go through - and Bayern are potentially eliminated - the possibility of major European glory is within touching distance. But this is Real Madrid that we are talking about and there is certainly one egomaniacal Portuguese who will stop at nothing to ensure progression on Wednesday night.
To Win (90mins)
Real Madrid 8/10
Atletico Madrid 7/2
To Qualify for Semi Final
Real Madrid 13/20
Atletico Madrid 5/4
A 3-1 home win over Malaga looks - superficially - to be the perfect tuneup for this intense encounter. It was anything but. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema will miss this game through injury while Marcelo has to serve a suspension. Bale’s exclusion may have been a blessing in disguise; the talented Welshman is a gamebreaker but upsets the balance of a side already possessing tear-away quick Ronaldo. Modric, however, will be sorely missed in the middle of the park. He is the connective membrane that links the entire side together while Benzema’s predatory prowess will also be missed. Real have struggled against the physicality of Atletico in seasons past and this game should be no exception. Isco may have to play in a more disciplined manner which further stretches the squad, while Illarramendi has yet to fully convince of his ability as a Modric replacement. Carlo Ancelotti also has a selection dilemma at the back with Ramos, Pepe and Varane fully fit. Ancelotti will likely opt for experience, relegating the excellent Varane to the bench. It is not all doom and gloom - Real always have a chance with Ronaldo lurking on the wings - but I think that they are in for a tough night against their fierce rivals.
Diego Simeone's side would probably welcome playing Real every week. They have a ventriloquist’s grip over their city neighbors that even Barcelona cannot emulate. Their no-nonsense brand of football seems to get under the skin of Real’s more decorated lineup. Griezmann’s inspired form also offers them that little extra quality that can hurt Real. Mandzukic should play despite some injury doubts, relegating Torres to the bench. Mario Suarez will miss out through suspension while Raul Garcia is back from an arm injury. Oblak should also retain his place between the sticks as reward for some excellent recent performances. Where Atletico have the edge for me is in central midfield. Modric’s absence should merely accentuate this fact with Tiago and Koke at their industrious best. Turan will look to join the front two as often as possible with the knowledge that an away goal heavily swings the tie in Atletico’s favor. The team knows exactly how to set up against Real and will go into the tie with all the confidence in the world.
VERDICT: Atletico Madrid - To Qualify for Semi Final 5/4
I feel that Real’s inability to get that vital away goal will ultimately come back to haunt them. The slew of injuries have come at a terrible time for a manager potentially playing for his job. An interesting side-bet would be on Ronaldo - facing the prospect of elimination - getting sent-off for some inexplicable moment of petulance. Atletico could conceivably progress on away goals or through extra time, so 5/4 looks a great price to cover a host of permutations.