The Madrid Derby highlights La Liga’s set of fixtures this weekend with Champions League winners Real Madrid hosting domestic league winners Atletico Madrid in what promises to be a hotly contested affair. The most recent bout between them – the Spanish Super Cup – was won by Atletico in a 2-1 aggregate win last month.
To Win (90mins)
Real Madrid 13/20
Atletico Madrid 41/10
It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Real Madrid. Two of last season’s key players have departed while two emerging stars have arrived, others have aired their dissatisfaction, while the team’s lacklustre early-season performances reached their nadir in a 4-2 defeat away to Real Sociedad. The situation is far removed from that of just four months ago, when Madrid’s players danced merrily around the turf of the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon in celebration of their victory over Atletico in the Champions League final. Los Blancos will be looking to bounce back after their poor performance against Sociedad and will need to be at their best as they come up against their archrivals this weekend. After winning the Champions League and finishing the transfer window business, Real Madrid still have a squad that can win every competition this season. With new high-profile acquisitions in James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, Carlo Ancelotti does have enough marquee players to provide the required stability to the squad.
One of the main reasons why Real Madrid were able to let go of Xabi Alonso to Bayern Munich without too much fuss was because of Kroos. Although Alonso is getting on in age, he was still an integral part of the side which claimed their 10th European title last year. The club’s acquisition of Kroos however, meant that the club had a player who could not only do the job Alonso did last season, but also offer a lot more going forward. James Rodriguez has replaced Angel Di Maria this season. The 23-year-old Colombian arrived at Real Madrid with his reputation through the roof; big things will be expected from him this season and he could be a nuisance for Atletico’s defence. The only constant in this ever-changing Real Madrid attack in the past five years has been Cristiano Ronaldo. The reigning Ballon d’Or winner and European Player of the Year has been the side’s number one goal threat. He is already off the mark this season and will be keen on adding to it once he has fully recovered from his patellar tendinitis, something that has continued to bother him from last season. There can be no revenge for Atletico Madrid. Whatever happens in every Madrid derby from now until the end of the century, Los Blancos will always have Lisbon.
Champions Atletico Madrid earned their first league win of the season as Mario Mandzukic scored to see off a stern challenge from newly promoted Eibar. Mandzukic – a summer signing from Bayern Munich – headed in from eight yards to clinch a 2-1 win after Joao Miranda had earlier scored. Atletico were without Diego Simeone for that match and will be without him again this weekend. The fiery Argentine was sent to the stands during Atletico’s Spanish Super Cup second-leg victory over Real Madrid last month, prompting an eight-match ban for the head coach. Always an active, loud, cajoling presence on the sidelines, Simeone being away could clearly have a detrimental effect on the team despite the boss putting his faith in assistant German Burgos. After cashing in on stars such as Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Adrian Lopez in recent months—also waving goodbye to Thibaut Courtois and David Villa—the defending La Liga champions have secured another wave of valuable performers, headlined by Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann. Having masterminded his team’s surge past Barcelona and Real Madrid last season, Simeone has opted for a blend of promising talents and seasoned campaigners this summer, recognising that both raw brilliance and hardened experience will be needed to sustain his team’s excellence.
It was always going to be difficult for Atletico to replace Costa, given that—not forgetting the goals—his feisty approach and relentless work rate was reflective of the heart and soul of Simeone’s side. But in Mandzukic, Los Rojiblancos have secured a proven scorer who arrives at the Vicente Calderon having excelled in previous stops at Dinamo Zagreb, Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich. A physical presence who is strong on either foot and in the air, the Croatian will thrive in Atletico’s direct style that makes the most of the side’s renowned set pieces. Needing pace alongside Mandzukic, Simeone will likely play Griezmann just off his main striker, allowing the former Real Sociedad star to use his speed to trouble Los Blancos’ defence, while also ensuring Atleti can push up the pitch. Last season, Atletico won 27 points from 27 to set the pace at the start of the season and build a platform from which they would go on to win their first title since 1996.
VERDICT: Real Madrid 13/20
Real Madrid are firm favourites at 13/20 while Atletico are valued at 41/10. Atletico Madrid are the current Spanish champions and so there will be a lot at stake for them here, especially pride. But they will not be the same after selling their star players who were key to their success last season. Real Madrid are ruthless at home and their frightening offence may prove to be the decisive factor. The home win is tipped.