Atlético Madrid slipped up last weekend against Real Betis on the same weekend Barcelona dropped two points in a home game against Valencia. Real Madrid were happiest on Monday with the two sides above them dropping points and Sevilla in fourth place also losing to Celta Vigo.
With the slightest of windows opening up for Real Madrid in the title race, they travel to the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday and Atleti have a chance to personally inflict a blow to their title chances and growing confidence. But how do they go about that?
Santiago Arias will need help
You typically don’t have to tell Diego Simeone to be cautious in big games against dangerous opposition but if Santiago Arias does start at right-back, he is going to need defensive cover against Vinicius. Much of Real Madrid’s recent fortune has come from Vinicius’ lack of fear, his speed and his unpredictability.
Simeone started with Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar on the wings along with Thomas Partey and Rodri in the middle against Real Betis in what was an unusually attacking line-up. That might have been more out of necessity than a new-found adventurous side he has recently picked up.
He was missing two of his hardest working midfielders in Saúl and Koke. The latter remains out as of Friday as he continues to rehab on his own but Saúl should start and it will take a mammoth effort from whoever is on that right-hand side to prevent Vinicius and presumably Sergio Reguilon from doing damage.
An actual left-back playing at left-back
Juanfran was deployed there last weekend and Saul has been playing in that position for spells too. But Diego Godin is back in action now having returned to training and has a chance to start with Lucas Hernandez getting shunted out to the left where he can shore up the back four and act as a threat. Lucas Vazquez should continue on the right for Solari and while he is no Vinicius in terms of speed and dribbling ability, he works hard and never lets up.
So, Lucas will have to ask questions of him and add something in attack. Against Barcelona, Jordi Alba tried his best but Coutinho offered little and was squeezed out by the Carvajal-Vazquez combo. He was forced inside by choice and design and they got nothing going on the wing.
Morata needs to do less but more in the penalty area
Álvaro Morata’s debut was more than adequate. He should have had a penalty, which likely would have won the game for Atletico and he was involved in a lot of Atletico’s good attacking play. That said, you would accept less from him in general if he could see more action in the penalty area.
He linked well with Griezmann at times on Sunday and was good generally but more width from Atlético so he can get more involved in the penalty area is much needed on Saturday. He has a knack for scoring against his old clubs too. He scored twice against Real Madrid when he played for Juventus to knock them out of the Champions League final. He also scored for Chelsea against Atlético in the Champions League group stage (the year they got knocked out at the earliest point) too.
It might be a similar situation to that against Betis with him playing with his back to goal but if he can either get in behind Real Madrid’s defence or if Atletico can attack down the wings on the break, there will be chances. And it would go a long way to helping him settle and to getting the fans back on his side if he were to sink Real Madrid in his first game back at Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano.