Last season, Real Madrid spent the majority of the campaign looking upwards at rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona above them in the table. Now, though, the dynamic has changed and it’s the Santiago Bernabeu outfit setting the pace at the top of La Liga while Atleti in particular toil their way through the season.
Indeed, it’s been a tough few months for Atletico Madrid. For the first time in his managerial career at the club, Diego Simeone is under real pressure. Even in the context of a difficult campaign, last week was especially tough for Atleti as they exited the Copa del Rey to lower league opposition and were held at home to Leganes, dropping them out of La Liga’s top four.
Simeone insists that he will come up with answers, but he’s been saying that for weeks. Atletico Madrid’s season continues to get worse and worse as they struggle with questions of identity and philosophy. Real Madrid, on the other hand, are getting better with every match they play, growing more and more confident and building more and more momentum.
It’s not that Zinedine Zidane has got his side playing exceptional football. Real Madrid are still labouring through matches, but they are winning through muscle memory. Take their recent victory over Sevilla, for instance. Real Madrid were second best for much of the game and yet still managed to claim three points.
This weekend’s Madrid derby presents Real Madrid with a chance to expose the gulf between themselves and one of their closest rivals. Atletico Madrid are at a low ebb, while the Santiago Bernabeu outfit are rising, currently holding a three-point lead at the top of the Spanish top flight.
While Atleti have struggled for a true goalscorer to lead the line, Karim Benzema is enjoying the season of his life for Real Madrid. The Frenchman has become Los Blancos’ figurehead in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo age, matching Lionel Messi in the race for this season’s Pichichi award.
Atletico Madrid have also had trouble in midfield, with Koke and Saul Niguez not delivering in the way Simeone had hoped. On the flip side, Real Madrid have benefited from the emergence of Fede Valverde, with Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric all rejuvenated. Every way you look at it, this weekend is set up for Real Madrid to provide a statement on the football landscape in Spain’s capital city.
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