Hand of Brod: Real Madrid Looking like Contenders Approaching Madrid Derby

The Madrid Derby or “El Derbi madrileno” has become a closely contested fixture in recent times since the ascension of Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone’s management. The two Madrid teams are still both in the title race and have exchanged bitter blows to their league and cup hopes in recent years.

This was marked by two Atletico victories at the Bernebau last year with a 2-1 victory over their bitter rivals in the Copa Del Rey final last year and a 1-0 win this season, overshadowing the debut of Gareth Bale. However, Real Madrid have got their revenge last month with a significant 5-0 aggregate victory in the same tournament that Atletico gained success in last season. Needless to say that this makes this fixture at the Vincente Calderon a mouth-watering clash.

Real Madrid sit at the top of Spain’s premier division ahead of their two fiercest rivals by three points. Atletico are sitting quite pretty in third place but they must be feeling somewhat disappointed to be in that position considering they were only top of the league a few weeks ago. And, of course, Barcelona sit between them in second, but thanks to internal issues at the Catalonian club, I reckon they will fail to win the league (my column for next week will dive into this topic further).

Therefore I believe that this game could be considered a “title-decider” if one wanted to use such a sporting cliché and ignore the other games that these two clubs have in La Liga. If Real Madrid were to win the tie then they will maintain at least a three point gap over Barcelona and six over Atletico. If Atletico were to win then they would go ahead of Real Madrid, but might not go top if Barcelona beats Almeria. Head-to-head goal difference is just confusing but that’s for another rant.

Annoyingly for Atletico Madrid, their rivals Real Madrid are definitely the favourites for this clash and eventual success in La Liga. And to be brutally honest I would be surprised if this fixture was anything but one sided.

Real Madrid have hit a great run of form as of late as seen with the 6-1 demolition of Schalke in midweek. The obvious stance to take upon this game is that Real dominated with some tremendous counter attacking football. Schalke had their chances throughout the game but Real Madrid’s attacking prowess overwhelmed the Bundesliga club with Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema scoring two goals each.

Sitting behind them are the midfield talents of Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric; the latter has become an essential part of Ancelotti’s system and many of the Madrid press are highlighting his talents as one of the main reasons for their “new found” success. The Croat failed to establish himself under Jose Mourinho but he has made himself an essential tool for Ancelotti, which is remarkable, considering that they spent £42 million on Isco.

His abilities to create chances (he has six assists with a stunning 90% pass completion rate) is why he is selected over the young Spaniard. His improvement is probably down to Zinedine Zidane, who has gone out of his way to provide individual training sessions with select players including Modric.

The most important cog of Ancelotti’s system is the defence. Real Madrid have kept seven clean sheets and only conceded four goals in their last ten games which has resulted in them winning nine of their last ten matches. Undoubtedly the back four of Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe and Marcelo should be considered the best defence in Europe right now (sorry Chelsea fans).

Atletico, by stark contrast, are starting to suffer from fatigue by being involved with both the La Liga title race and being dark horses for Champions League success. Atletico has never really had to worry about prioritising league over other trophies until this season, because they were never really contenders to break the El Clasico duopoly.

Recent defeats to Osasuna and Almeria exemplify the fact that they have limited resources in terms of playing staff in comparison to Real or Barcelona. They suffer from the same level of economic deprivation that has strangled the lifeblood of other leagues— think Bayern Munich or PSG muscling the rest of the competition in their league just because they have more money and more talent.

Simeone will be keen to turn things around quickly for Madrid’s second club. They will be encouraged by the fact that they can still grind out results, such as the 1-0 victory at the San Siro over AC Milan in the Champions League two weeks ago. It’s typical sporting rhetoric that great champions win, even when they are at their worst—a philosophy that Manchester United utilised under the great Sir Alex Ferguson. Atletico did that against a surprisingly good AC Milan with top goal scorer Diego Costa getting the only goal of that game.

Atletico will be boosted with the return of Miranda, Koke and Arda Turan. They should definitely boost both their defence and midfield and it will give Simeone options in midfield— his biggest decision is whether to keep Diego or Adrian in the starting XI. By just having that option of whether to play one midfielder over the other is one that Simeone will take as a blessing, especially if he gets it right.

I think that the incredible depth of talent that Real Madrid has as well as a lack of internal issues under Ancelotti means that the men in white should be in a better condition to not only tackle this derby but this title race head on. Football tends to be an unpredictable thing sometimes but I truly expect Real Madrid to dominate over the next few months and bring back domestic glory to the capital city.

Next edition of “The Hand of Brod” will focus on Barcelona’s turmoils off the pitch.


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