Real Madrid. Atlético Madrid. Saturday night. Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Atlético will look to extend an impressive run in this fixture — the mattress makers have not lost a league derbi at the Bernabéu since Dec. 1, 2012. And Atleti have already notched one win over the eternal rivals this season. Here are three keys if they are to do it again.
- Isolate Luka Modrić.
One feature of Julen Lopetegui’s Madrid side so far this season is that we have seen the ex-Spain coach play his Croatian star in a more advanced role. It’s mostly gone well, but Modric was man-marked and worked out of his side’s 3-0 loss to Sevilla on Wednesday. Unable to drop deeper to pick up the ball, FIFA’s “The Best” winner could not dictate tempo, which contributed to a shaky, jittery display by los blancos.
It would be advisable for Atlético to cut off Modrić from Madrid’s other press-resistant midfielder, Toni Kroos. Atleti will almost certainly not press as frequently or as high up the pitch as Sevilla did, but removing a player as influential as Modrić will leave Kroos and Casemiro (who is much less resistant to a press) to navigate the low block on their own. Thus, the mattress makers can gain the upper hand numerically in midfield.
- Exhibit patience, patience and more patience.
Atlético saw 41 percent possession in last month’s Super Cup triumph. In two league derbies last season, Diego Simeone’s men saw 35 percent possession and 31 percent respectively. Simeone has never been afraid to cede possession to the biggest sides and defend with the tag underdog that fit comfortably his early Atleti sides — and he won’t have a problem doing it again at the Bernabéu on Saturday.
In fact, the opponent’s style may make that decision even simpler for him. Under Lopetegui, Real Madrid have averaged over 64 percent possession across their first six games in LaLiga. The more Atleti are without the ball, the easier they can set up in their two banks of four and that now-famous low block to cut out any play through the middle. In addition, Cholo will be able to better utilize the pacy options on his bench — likely to be Ángel Correa, Gelson Martins and Vitolo.
- Get the ball to Diego Costa.
Costa has equalled his longest scoring drought in domestic competition — his goose egg against Huesca ran his dry spell in LaLiga to a whopping 15 games. That ends Saturday if Atlético can turn back the clock and get the big man involved.
Yes, Antoine Griezmann is the only Atleti player to score at the Bernabéu since 2014. But Griezmann has never passed more (40.7 per 90 minutes) and has registered assists in three of his past four appearances. The Frenchman even had 95 percent pass accuracy and three accurate long balls versus Huesca. Simeone’s solution to his Costa problem — for now — involves Grizi the facilitator more than Grizi the goal threat.
Imagine the following: Casemiro takes a heavy touch in midfield. Rodri pounces and lays off for Koke, who then pings a ball square into Griezmann’s path. The Frenchman takes a few steps, exploiting the space that exists between Ramos and his left back. He proceeds to slide an inch-perfect pass to Costa, who gallops into the box and deftly hits the opening goal past old friend Thibaut Courtois.