Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid | Saturday 27 February | Santiago Bernabeu | 17:00
Real Madrid and Atletico will square off at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday in what is a must-win game for both sides. At least one of the title hopefuls from the capital faces the prospect of losing even more ground on Barcelona, who host Sevilla. Colchoneros trail Barcelona by eight points, while Real sit one point behind their city rivals―a position from which no team has ever won the title at this stage of the season.
To Win (90 Mins)
Real Madrid 17/20 | Draw 26/10 | Atletico Madrid 32/10
Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty as Real Madrid slipped even further behind leaders Barcelona in the title race by drawing 1-1 at Malaga last Sunday. The Portuguese headed the Meringues in front late in the first half at La Rosaleda but just a minute later had a spot-kick saved by Carlos Kameni, and in the second half Malaga grabbed a deserved equaliser through centre-back Raul Albentosa. Javi Gracia’s side might even have snatched a winner late on had it not been for some great goalkeeping by Madrid’s Keylor Navas, but Zinedine Zidane’s side fall nine points behind Barcelona with 13 games left of the campaign.
Although Zidane and players like Sergio Ramos insisted that they will keep fighting until winning the league is mathematically impossible, history is not on Real Madrid’s side. No one has ever made up a nine-point deficit at the top of the table with 13 rounds of games to go. Los Blancos haven’t won the La Liga title since the 2011/12 campaign under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. Since then, Barcelona have claimed two league titles and even local rivals Atletico have won the league.
The Meringues are unbeaten in 11 matches in all competitions with eight wins. Zidane has won all five of his games at the Santiago Bernabeu, scoring 20 goals while conceding just three times. Gareth Bale continues to recover from his calf injury with no official word out on his expected date of return.
Toni Kroos will play a vital role in midfield. He provides his team with box-to-box cover, working hard in defence and attack, and his great ability on the ball, including his creativity and sure passing keeps the ball rolling. Kroos seems to effortlessly find space, is calm on the ball, and can play a pin-point pass to one of his teammates, which has allowed him to pick up eight assists so far this campaign. Isco will take on the role of creating the play for Real Madrid, being the man to drop back deep when needed, to drive forward with the ball and take responsibility.
The danger man will be Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese has been in top form this season having scored 34 goals in all competitions – keeping him quiet will be extremely difficult. Zidane will be sweating on the fitness of 19-goal striker Karim Benzema after the Frenchman missed last weekend’s draw with Malaga due to a back problem.
Atletico Madrid’s hopes of catching Barcelona suffered a setback last Sunday as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Villarreal at the Vicente Calderon. Diego Simeone’s side were shut out by the visitors’ rock-solid defence and could carve out barely any clear chances. They ended the weekend eight points behind Barca – who also have a superior head-to-head record – with 13 games remaining. Atleti have won four of their last five away games in La Liga, losing 2-1 to Barcelona at the end of last month.
Simeone’s side are unbeaten in five league meetings against Real Madrid having won three times – twice at the Santiago Bernabeu. They were unlucky to draw 1-1 at the Vicente Calderon earlier in the season when Antoine Griezmann missed from the penalty spot. Los Rojiblancos have been formidable in defence all season long, conceding just 11 goals in 25 games – keeping 16 clean sheets. Their back five of Jan Oblak, Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez, Filipe Luis and Juanfran are rock-solid and they don’t give away chances easily.
Griezmann is the most potent player in the Atletico squad in front of goal, and is renowned for his ability to sneak past defenders and create space for himself. His mobile play and diagonal movement is a nightmare for defenders which makes it literally impossible to man-mark him. Fernando Torres has been in good form of late, scoring in Atletico’s last two victories and despite failing to find the net against Villarreal, he worked extremely hard for the team and made good runs throughout the game. He scored a brace against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey last year and with Jackson Martinez having been sold to Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, there’s an emphasis on the 31-year-old to produce key, “big moment” goals — something for which he’s always had a knack.
Verdict: Atletico Madrid Win/Draw Double Chance (9/10)
Real Madrid showed that they aren’t invincible at the Santiago Bernabeu when they lost 4-0 to Barcelona in November last year. Los Blancos have failed to beat Atletico in their last five league attempts with Simeone’s side victorious on three occasions. They drew 1-1 earlier in the season, but had it not been for Griezmann’s missed penalty, Atleti would have won the match. A tight affair is expected, but I’m backing Atletico Madrid on the Win/Draw Double Chance at 9/10.