The season’s third Madrid Derby will take place at the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday evening, as Atlético Madrid continue to jostle for positioning in LaLiga’s top four.
Atlético (12-5-5, 41 points) have lost twice already this season to bitter rivals Real Madrid (16-3-3, 51 points). Los Blancos won this season’s first derby at the Cívitas Metropolitano in September and eliminated Atleti from the Copa del Rey in controversial circumstances last month. This left the Rojiblancos with just league fixtures until June.
A further Atlético loss in the derby would be ill-timed, given the competition for places in LaLiga’s top six. If Madrid win again, Atleti would fall five points behind third-place Real Sociedad, assuming the Basque side beats relegation-threatened Valencia in Saturday’s late game.
The Rojiblancos could also end the weekend with just a one-point advantage over Real Betis for the final Champions League spot, as the Andalusians play bottom side Elche on Friday night.
“There are seasons where we can compete to win something, and others when it seems far away. Now we want to achieve the objectives of the club, which I don’t think are minor,” Diego Simeone told the media on Friday. “Every match where you put on the red and white shirt, you have to be excited.”
Simeone has tested multiple midfield configurations in training this week, but all of them have included either Pablo Barrios or Saúl Ñíguez (or both). It seems certain that at least one of the academy graduates will start at the Bernabéu.
In another surprise, Marcos Llorente seems best-placed to partner Antoine Griezmann in attack, leaving Álvaro Morata and Memphis Depay on the bench after both players (for wellness reasons) missed training sessions this week. Llorente’s last start at forward came in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal loss to RB Leipzig in 2020.
“I look for what’s going to give me the best result from the game,” Simeone said. “We trained with (Marcos) Llorente in the middle, with Correa, Morata returned to training (after feeling unwell), Memphis too ... We have options in midfield.”
As our own Sam Leveridge highlighted, no matter who ends up starting in Atlético’s midfield, they will have to provide cover and support to neutralize the threat of Vinícius Júnior, who scored twice and set up another goal in Madrid’s 5-2 romp over Liverpool in midweek.
“I think his growth has been enormous,” Simeone said about the Brazil international. “Real Madrid placed a big bet on him. His numbers have improved each year and he’s in a great moment as a player.”
Date Feb. 25, 2023
Location Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Chamartín, Madrid
Kickoff time 6:30 p.m. CET, 5:30 p.m. GMT, 12:30 p.m. EST, 9:30 a.m. PST
SB Nation opposition blog Managing Madrid
Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States),