For the next 30 days or so in Spain, there will be non-stop football. With Spanish sides still involved in Europe and with the spread out of La Liga fixtures, which will cover four days, there will a match involving a Spanish side every day for over a month. Should Barcelona and Sevilla go through to the next round in Europe there will be 46 straight days of football in Spain and so it promises to be a busy time for players, Coaches and journalists.
This week sees the return of the Champions League with the quarter-finals kicking off on Tuesday. Old foes Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid will face each other on Tuesday. It is impossible to talk about El Derbi without mentioning two things: that infamous classified ad and that famous last minute goal.
It seems like years ago that Los Rojiblancos were on that eternal winless run against Real Madrid, a run that saw them go over 20 games without a win. It resulted in some cheeky Real Madrid fans holding up a classified ad in one game asking for ‘a decent rival for a derby game’. Be careful what you ask for because a few games later Atletico did win El Derbi but it wasn’t so long ago.
It was May 2013 but the reason it seems so distant is probably down to the amount of times these two have faced each other since. So far this season, they have played six times and each time Real Madrid have failed to beat their once pushover rivals. They have met in the League, Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. Atleti have won four and drawn two and so they were the side that most Merengue fans wanted to avoid. But, Real Madrid will always have the memory of Lisbon and it is that image of Sergio Ramos heading the ball into the back of the net that is giving them hope.
Atletico were just seconds away from winning their first European Cup when Ramos scored in injury time. The goal brought extra time and Real Madrid were ruthless and won the much-coveted La Decima. They are just two points off Barca in the League but many still feel that the Champions League is their best bet for silverware.
Madrid comfortably beat Eibar last weekend in the League and did so by resting many key players. With James Rodriguez fit and Luka Modric also back pulling the strings in midfield, Los Blancos look stronger. The only worry they have is on the fitness of Gareth Bale, but the Welshman looks set to play.
Defender Alvaro Arbeola claims that his side do know how to beat Atletico and the Real Madrid Press and fans are hopeful that this will be lucky number seven for their side. Don’t say it too loud but they are taking inspiration form bitter rivals Barca, who last season had the same run against Atletico but it was the seventh game that turned the tables. But, don’t expect Atletico to lie down.
This represents the only realistic chance of winning any silverware in May for Atletico. They may still be sticking to the ‘partido a partido’ mantra and always looking forward but last year’s final still hurts and revenge is wanted. Since joining the side, Diego Simeone has won something in May each season and what is more, each time the trophy is of more importance. The draw against Malaga will not have helped in terms of motivation but he may try and focus on the spirit his side showed to get the equaliser.
He also has a few players coming back with Mario Mandzukic getting the all clear to play. The Croat may have fallen out of favour at the club but his experience is invaluable to the club. Miguel Moya is also back but will probably end up watching from the bench and Raul Garcia will have a late fitness test. Apart from that there are no other real injury concerns.
Where both sides need to be careful is with yellow cards. Atletico have Cristian Ansaldi, Gabi, Jesus Gamez, Mario Suarez and Fernando Torres just one card away from suspension whilst Los Blancos have Fabio Coentrao, Marcelo and Toni Kroos.
A lot will depend on the referee and how he lets the game flow. Real Madrid fans have accused Atletico in the past of being a rough team and will want the referee to clamp down on heavy tackling. Atletico strongly deny such allegations and say they play to the rules of the game. Atletico fans in turn have accused Real Madrid of play-acting and trying to influence the referee but in European ties that is a lot harder to do.
The last time they met, Atletico won 4-0 and the Vicente Calderon went ballistic. It is hard to see that result being repeated again this week but one thing that will be the same will be the atmosphere as Atletico go in search of revenge for Lisbon. Real Madrid desperately want to win and especially in the Calderon after that hammering.
Atleti have beaten Real Madrid in two competitions this season in which they had to play two legs and so know the importance of a home goal and a clean sheet. This may be a European tie but foremost it is a derby, a derby that for many years had lost its importance but is now back with a bang.