Aside from local rivalry, Real Madrid and their Atletico neighbours have plenty of recent history to settle when the pair meet during today’s third round of La Liga games.
Neither has started the 2014-15 season particularly brightly—Real have three points from two games after losing to Real Sociedad, while Atletico’s opening-day draw with Rayo Vallecano limits La Rojiblancos to four, meaning the Bernabeu fixture can already be considered “must-win” for both title contenders.
Carlo Ancelotti’s battles with Diego Simeone always throw up an interesting contrast. The Italian thinker, who loves to play outright attacking football, will be hoping to outsmart his Argentinian rival whose dogged nature set Atletico up for two-legged victory during the recent Spanish Super Cup clashes.
It isn’t often Atletico travel to the Bernabeu as champions. Retaining the Spanish title is undoubtedly a difficult challenge for Simeone and his squad, which has predictably been ripped apart during the summer.
While key players such as Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois are no longer with the club, Simeone has managed to find suitable replacements.
Atleti have often dealt with major departures—think Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Radamel Falcao—but the capital-based side are experts at overcoming the difficulties of competing with financial juggernauts.
Mario Mandzukic has already settled into his leading role and will take confidence from opening his La Liga account during the win over Eibar. Antoine Griezmann—so often linked with Real—is yet to show his best form but can be expected to grow in confidence after securing a handful of appearances.
New boy Alessio Cerci offers further attacking flair from the flanks if needed, as Simeone beds his team with creativity from the wings and efficiency in the centre.
Cholo will have taken special notice of Real’s midfield crumble against Sociedad, which invited unbearable pressure on the likes of Sergio Ramos and Pepe at the back.
Letting Xabi Alonso leave Real appeared an odd decision when it happened at the end of August, per Eurosport.
Unfortunately for Ancelotti, his worst fears were realised when it became immediately clear the perfectly executed balance of his midfield three was lost at the Anoeta Stadium. Toni Kroos is a controlling midfielder but became isolated when both Luke Modric and Isco’s instincts saw them push on.
Sami Khedira would have been in the running to provide greater defensive balance during the derby, but the German’s recent knee surgery ensures he is unlikely to feature until at least October, perMetro. If Atletico can stop Kroos dictating possession, Real’s midfield can once again be bypassed in a manner that was rarely possible during their run to La Decima.
Real certainly have more to lose here. Ancelotti won’t want to be lagging four points behind Atletico and potentially six behind Barcelona after three weeks, while he will also be wary of losing on home turf.
His side need to play with the intensity and cutting edge demonstrated during the latter stages of the Champions League final, which saw Atletico thrashed 4-1.
For the visitors, a draw would be an excellent result. Atletico made a nuisance of themselves last season against the title favourites—picking up one win and three draws against Real and Barca—allowing Simeone’s side to topple the latter on the final day of the season.
If the same is to happen again, Atletico must exit the Bernabeu with at least a point intact.