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Atlético Madrid-Real Madrid: A decisive derby day

Your prematch preview, less than 24 hours from kickoff.

Villarreal CF v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander
Koke has not led Atlético to a win over Real Madrid since he was named captain.
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

It’s a game that means a little more than the others — first-place Atlético Madrid host third-place Real Madrid on Sunday afternoon.

Atlético (18-4-2, 58 points) have a special opportunity on Sunday. A victory over Real Madrid (16-5-4, 53 points) would send Diego Simeone’s men eight points clear of the reigning champions with 13 games to play. Simeone will pass Luis Aragonés on the club’s all-time wins list if Atleti prevail in this fixture for the first time since 2015. Eight direct meetings with Zinedine Zidane in LaLiga have yielded just one win for Cholo and co.

Villarreal CF v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

“The championship (i.e. LaLiga) is very beautiful,” Simeone said Saturday. “Tomorrow, two teams fighting for similar goals atop the table will play one another.

“We will try to take the game to where we can do damage.”

Zidane is guiding his squad through a damaging injury crisis. Real Madrid have rung up more than 40 injuries this season and will not have Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Eden Hazard or Mariano Díaz available. But Karim Benzema is expected to make his return to the starting lineup, while second-leading scorer Casemiro will play as the anchor alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić in a decorated midfield.

“The truth is we usually try to seek a balance against all our opponents,” Simeone said. “To override the rival’s strengths and enhance our own.”

Villarreal v Atletico Madrid - La Liga Santander
Ángel Correa has picked up three assists but never scored against Real Madrid, and he has seen eight yellow cards in 15 meetings.
Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Cholo will be able to pick a strong team, as the only absentees are José Giménez (another muscular injury) and Héctor Herrera (unspecified personal reasons). Kieran Trippier, fresh off a lengthy suspension, will head straight back into the starting 11, while Yannick Carrasco is expected to occupy the other wing. The biggest point of speculation has been naming a partner for Luis Suárez in attack — in training this week, Simeone tried Ángel Correa, João Félix, and Marcos Llorente in the supporting forward role.

“I see João very well. He is fine, as is the whole group,” Simeone said. “We are in an extraordinary moment. We are playing important games, which is what footballers prepare for.”

Thomas Lemar will make his 100th Atlético appearance in this match, while Jan Oblak can extend his lead over Thibaut Courtois in the Zamora race with another clean sheet. Madrid have not lost a league game away from home since Nov. 8, racking up five wins and three draws since a 4-1 defeat at Valencia.

The squad

Date March 7, 2021

Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid

Kickoff time 4:15 p.m. CET, 3:15 p.m. GMT, 10:15 a.m. EST, 7:15 a.m. PST

Opposition blog Managing Madrid

Available TV/streaming Movistar LaLiga (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States), DIRECTV Sports (Uruguay), beIN Sports 1 (France), Guangdong Sports Channel (China)