Madrid (AFP) – Accustomed to a place at the top table in recent seasons, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid resume an old rivalry at a new home on Saturday with little room for error.
Early season struggles have left both sides eight points adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona and four points below revitalised Valencia.
The pair have each contested two Champions League finals and won a La Liga title in the past four seasons. Saturday’s derby will be the first derby at Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano stadium but the 20th since February 2014, with six wins apiece and seven draws in the 19 contests, a demonstration of how closely matched they have been.
However, after stumbling out of the blocks this year, Real and Atletico find themselves playing catch up due to Barca’s flying start.
The poor form of their stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann, usually reliable sources of goals, has been a key problem for the Madrid sides.
The two attackers went head-to-head for the Ballon d’Or last year after Ronaldo’s Real and Portugal edged out Griezmann’s Atletico and France in the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals respectively.
However, Ronaldo has scored just once in seven La Liga appearances so far this season despite having 48 shots on goal.
“It’s not my fault if (the ball) does not want to go in,” Ronaldo told French sports newspaper L’Equipe on Thursday.
“People look at me like a goal machine, like a guy who has to score all the time.”
– Restless Ronaldo –
Ronaldo’s restlessness on the field has been mirrored by rising tension off it, with Madrid-based sports daily Marca reporting on his fractious relationship with Real captain Sergio Ramos this week.
After being beaten 3-1 by Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley earlier this month, Ronaldo admitted the Madrid squad that delivered a first La Liga and Champions League double for 59 years had been weakened by the departures of Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez.
Ramos later described those comments as “opportunistic”, but Real boss Zinedine Zidane insisted on Friday “there is no problem” between the pair, who have been the scourge of Atletico.
Ronaldo has scored more goals than anyone else in Madrid derby history with 21 in 29 games, while Ramos scored in both 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals to deny the red and white half of Madrid their first ever European Cup.
“I can say truthfully that in Sergio and Cristiano I have two players that will go down in the history of this club,” said Zidane.
“Both of them know what is at stake and they respect each other a lot.”
Griezmann has also scored in three of his last six meetings against Real, but has failed to find the net in his last seven Atletico games and was even substituted by Diego Simeone before Thomas Partey’s injury-time strike earned them a hard-fought 1-0 win at Deportivo la Coruna two weeks ago.
“He is the most important offensive player we have,” insisted Simeone on Friday.
“His best form is still to come but I have the feeling he is motivated.”
Atletico’s slow adaptation to the Wanda Metropolitano has played its part in their struggles. Simeone’s men have failed to win any of their last four games at home in all competitions.
However, the return of Koke and Yannick Carrasco from injury should at least inject some creativity back into an Atletico side badly lacking a spark.
“Koke is very important in the transition from defence to attack, as is Carrasco’s movement. They are two very important players to have back,” added Simeone.
Real, by contrast, are still riddled with injuries, with Gareth Bale and Keylor Navas ruled out and Dani Carvajal possibly only fit enough for a place on the bench after a two-month absence.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Girona v Real Sociedad (2000)
Getafe v Alaves (1200), Leganes v Barcelona (1515), Sevilla v Celta Vigo (1730), Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid (1945)
Malaga v Deportivo la Coruna (1100), Espanyol v Valencia (1515), Las Palmas v Levante (1730), Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal (1945)
Eibar v Real Betis (2000)
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