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Know Thine Enemigo: Madrid Derby Q&A with Kristofer McCormack

The Real Madrid writer helps us preview Saturday’s meeting of the Madrid giants.

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - 2019 International Champions Cup Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

What are your thoughts on the state of Real Madrid entering el derbi?

Pretty good, actually. Preseason didn’t go to plan (thanks in part to you meddling kids) and though Real made an unbeaten start to the season, how they got those results wasn’t convincing.

I would say that I had seen just over a full game of good football from Real Madrid this season (65 minutes or so against Valladolid and the first half against Levante). Then we were ruthlessly exposed and humiliated by PSG last Wednesday and have suddenly done a U-turn since then.

Toni Kroos has started tracking his man and working harder in transition, Casemiro is playing as a pure anchor rather than a part-time number 10 and it’s made us look surprisingly solid defensively over the last two games. The other end of the pitch still needs work, Eden Hazard has a lot of catching up to do physically and the team remains reliant on Karim Benzema to score. However, if we can continue to perform defensively, I am optimistic everything will follow due to the individual talent we have up front.

Sevilla v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid have already had high highs and low lows this season. What has been the biggest surprise(s) from the first month-plus?

The turnaround from the PSG game has been the biggest surprise for me so far. Zinedine Zidane loves using intensity in press conferences, especially when the team is in a rut, but it’s been a long time since he actually got a reaction. He certainly can give himself some credit for not only shaking his dressing room into a reaction, but also directing his players on the sort of reaction he expected i.e. Kroos’ lackadaisical defending. Naturally, there is some context to this reaction — it’s just two games, neither Sevilla or Osasuna have been prolific in front of goal this season, etc.

However, I’ve seen the script where Real Madrid lose their first big game of the season, lose in Seville and are out of the league by Christmas more times than I can count, so the results in themselves are surprising given what I’ve been used to recently.

Atlético Madrid had their own injury crisis last season, and now it has made its way over to the Bernabéu. What’s happened there and what is the status of RM’s injured?

Everyone has an answer to where this injury crisis has come from. There has been this bizarre 13 second clip of players using the leg press wrong, leading to training methods being questioned. Others have blamed the fitness team while Real’s partnership with the health specialist Sanitas has been controversial since the dawn of time.

I have my own theory on the subject — I think changing the fitness team has made things worse, but the main issue is more so the demand of professional soccer on players rather than anything Real Madrid are doing.

Zidane said in a recent press conference that he’s shocked by the amount of games players play, saying where once it was 40 or 45 games a season, now it’s 60. In my view, Real Madrid are suffering the most from these demands because few teams in European football have played as many games as they have. The three peat has taken its toll through 38 extra games alongside a European Super Cup match for the last three seasons and the FIFA Club World Cup the last three seasons, all of which generally take place in exotic locations.

The main injury concern now for us is left back, where Marcelo and Ferland Mendy are injured. Nacho is the third choice, but had a poor game against Osasuna and is a potential weakness Atleti could exploit.

Zidane and Diego Simeone will match wits once more Saturday. Who has the edge?

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

They’ve both had their moments. I would argue that a Champions League final victory forever gives Zidane the edge, but I think if I did that, you wouldn’t invite me to do this again and we might have to draw a line in the sand from here on in with these two.

(Editor’s note: Eh? A Champions League final between Simeone and Zidane? This is the first I’m hearing of it.)

To me, Zidane and Simeone are kinda the last of the old guard heading into this weekend. Both sides have had a lot of changes, particularly Atleti, and it will be interesting how that might change the rivalry going forward.

What do Real Madrid have to do to win this game?

Just continue to build off their last 180 minutes of football. The process so far has been good, and Atleti are going to ask more questions than both Sevilla and Osasuna did. But I think we can beat any team on our day with the right structure.

Scoreline prediction?

0-0. As is tradition.