Going into May’s Copa del Rey Final between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, it had been 14 years and 25 games from the last time that Atlético had defeated Real in a Derbi Madrileño (Madrid Derby) game. But on a magical night in May, Atlético finally ended this long suffering of not beating their city rivals as they came out victorious 2-1 to win the Copa del Rey, and to make it much sweeter, win it at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real’s home stadium.
On Saturday, both will renew acquaintances in the latest edition of the Derbi Madrileño as they will play at the Santiago Bernabeu in what is clearly the game of the weekend in not only Spain, but in all of Europe as this is the most anticipated Madrid Derby that has been played in the last 15 years. Part of the reason this is the most anticipated Madrid Derby game in quite some time is that for the first time in years, Atlético pose as legitimate challengers to Real on the field and in the La Liga standings.
Heading into the game, Atlético are currently tied for the top of the league with Barcelona having won their first six games in league play so far, and as a result, taking all 18 points up for play so far. Real come into the game third, two points back at 16 having only dropped points in their 2-2 draw against Villarreal in a game played two weeks ago. Aside from currently being better than Real in the standings, Atlético also currently are playing at a level which has many thinking it is they who could upset the apple card and break the duopoly that Barcelona and Real Madrid currently have atop of the La Liga standings for the past five, six years.
Heading into the game, there are two big questions which will be answered when Real Madrid release their team sheet an hour before kickoff on Saturday. The first is whether or not Gareth Bale will play. Bale was set to make his home debut last weekend in the 4-1 win over Getafe, but during pre-game warmups sustained an injury and therefore did not play in the game. All indications are that it is nothing serious, but given that Bale not too long ago was already dealing with an ankle injury, it is far from a 100 percent guarantee he will play on Saturday.
The second big question facing Carlo Ancelotti as he heads into his first Derbi Madrileño is who does he start alongside Sami Khedira in the holding midfield role with Xabi Alonso still working his way back from injury. He has mainly preferred to use Luka Modric as the other holding midfielder alongside Khedira, but in the game against Getafe, Asier Illarramendi started alongside Khedira. Depending on whether Ancelotti feels like he needs more of an natural attack minded player to breakdown what will be an Atlético team who will likely look to close out space or if he feels he needs someone to help better protect his defense will determine who starts between Modric and Illarramendi.
As for Atlético coach Diego Simeone, his only real question(s) will be whom to start amongst Cristian Rodriguez, Gabi, Arda Turan and Raul Garcia to play in the midfield. One of these three will be expected to help close space that is available to the Real Madrid attack, muck it up in the midfield and when given the chance, break on a counter and hope to score with David Villa and/or Diego Costa upfront as the strikers.
As for the game itself, I expect to see a high-intensity affair with emotions running high and a few shoves as a result of that, which each team will play with as a result of the fact that it is the Derbi Madrileño. As the game settles after a hectic opening 15-20 minutes, I think we will see the attacking abilities of Real Madrid’s holding midfielders be the difference in this game and in the end, with goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Isco, Real Madrid will win 2-0.