Atlético Madrid have had a couple of weeks to regroup after a horrible spell saw them lose ground in LaLiga and all but see themselves out of the Champions League with draws against mediocre opposition.
They have the chance to turn their season on its head against Real Madrid on Saturday when they welcome their crosstown rivals to the Wanda Metropolitano for the first time ever — but it won’t be easy against the reigning Spanish, European and world champions.
Here are three facets of the game Atlético must get right in order to win Saturday:
It feels strange to write this about a Diego Simeone-led Atlético team, but falling asleep at corners and set-pieces is something they just have to avoid. Real Madrid have scored 22 goals this season, and although just two of them have come from headers, they have the personnel to hurt Atlético in that area. This is something Atleti need to concentrate on, as it could easily lead to their first derbi defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Casemiro, Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema (when he’s in form) are all very capable in the air. Of Atlético’s six goals conceded this season, five of them have been from headed efforts, and Zinedine Zidane will accordingly try to push Atlético to the limit in the air.
Atlético’s right back choice
Ronaldo is not the player he once was and doesn’t tend to play out on the left as frequently as he once did. But Marco Asensio is likely to play a starting role given Gareth Bale’s continued absence from the squad through absence, and the emergent superstar is quite a handful.
We saw from Atlético’s match against Barcelona last month how important the wide areas are; Sergi Roberto‘s cross into the box effectively stole two points that night, and as mentioned above, Real have lots of crossers and aerial weapons.
Šime Vrsaljko is riding the crest of a wave after helping Croatia to a spot in the World Cup, and Simeone needs to recognise that if Juanfran plays, Zidane will and should target him, meaning it will be a long night for everyone on the right side of Atlético’s team.
Getting Griezmann touches inside the box
Theo Griezmann is a headache, but he had a point when he said his older brother needed to be on the ball more often in order to affect change. More importantly, he needs to be on the ball in the penalty area. Griezmann is Atlético’s talisman and one of LaLiga’s most recognizable stars, but he’s averaging less than three shots per 90 minutes. He needs to double that output on Saturday.
One aspect of Real Madrid’s play — and you could argue this about most any football team — is that they can become disorganized and caught out on opponents’ counters. Tottenham Hotspur exposed them in this area, as did Girona. Atlético need to be razor-sharp on the break and Griezmann needs to be leading this charge, barreling his way forward and hurting Real.