Madrid Derby: Real Test for Los Blancos Title Ambition

first_imgMadrid’s hope of winning the La Liga for the first time in five years will be put to test today as neighbours, Atletico, storm the Santiago Bernabeu for the Madrid derby. A win for the White Angels will be a big boost to their title ambition while a draw or even a loss will increase fierce rival -Barcelona’s optimism of snatching the title from leaders, who top the table with two points and a game at handReal Madrid can show how serious their bid to land a first La Liga title in five years really is when they host local rivals Atletico Madrid today in the midst of the best run of results in the campaign by Diego Simeone’s side.Real ended a three-season drought against their neighbours earlier on in the campaign with a 3-0 win at the Vicente Calderon in November, thanks to a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, a display Zinedine Zidane’s side have struggled to top. The European champions’ destiny is in their hands as they lead holders Barcelona by two points while also having a game in hand, though doubts linger about their true quality.Real’s play has been littered with lapses of concentration in defence and they have often had to rely on late escape acts to see them through difficult games.Atletico have won all three of their previous visits to the Santiago Bernabeu in the league and head there after beating Real Sociedad 1-0 on Tuesday to record five consecutive domestic wins for the first time this season.Zidane made wholesale changes to his team in Wednesday’s 4-2 win at Leganes in preparation for the derby, resting Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos.Marco Asensio and Alvaro Morata shone in the absence of the team’s big hitters to help put Real up 3-0 after 25 minutes but familiar frailties were visible at the back as they conceded twice in two minutes before adding a fourth after the break.Real will find it tougher to compensate for any similar errors against Atletico, who have conceded just one goal in their last six games in all competitions.Atletico defender Juanfran believes his side are far better prepared to face their neighbours than when they last met.“It’s clear they were better than us in that game but now it’s another story, a different moment. I hope we can stay on this great run and get something positive, although we know it’ll be difficult because they are top and are having an incredible season,” Juanfran told reporters.“We had a bad run around November and December and that has made us stronger and we’ve shown once again that Atletico always rises against adversity,” added Juanfran, who missed the crucial penalty in the shoot-out when Atletico lost to Real in the 2016 Champions League final.Meanwhile, Antoine Griezmann believes Atletico can inflict the worst possible start to a season defining two-weeks for Real. Griezmann scored the winner last season as Atletico became the first side to ever win away to Real in the league for three consecutive seasons.“I see us as favourites. I believe in my teammates and the coach. We have to win more for the fans than for the points. Madrid played great and caused us a lot of damage. Now it is a different story. We know it is going to be difficult, but I believe in my teammates. We are more complete now,” said a bullish Griezmann on Thursday.Inflicting a damaging blow on Real’s bid for the first league title in five years would be some measure of sweet revenge for Atletico. However, Real have yet to taste defeat at home in La Liga this season.That record will be put fully to the test over the next fortnight as Barcelona visit on March 23.In between times Madrid also face old foes Bayern Munich for a place in the Champions League semifinals.Real captain Sergio Ramos has been Atletico’s bete noire in recent times, scoring in both the Champions League finals between the sides.But he has called on Real to not rest on their laurels and go for more history by becoming the first side to retain the Champions League in 27 years and end Barca’s stranglehold on La Liga.“You can’t constantly live with what you have won in the past. You have to have ambition and belief to win titles. As of today we can win both the Champions League and La Liga,” he told Madrid’s website.Both sides are in great form having each won their last five La Liga outings.However, Zidane and Simeone’s plans could be affected by their upcoming Champions League ties with Bayern and Leicester City respectively.Zidane is expected to welcome back a host of first team regulars rested for Wednesday’s 4-2 win over Leganes, including Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.By contrast, Simeone is expected to name an unchanged side from the one that beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Tuesday with Fernando Torres partnering Griezmann up front due to Kevin Gameiro’s continued absence through injury.Barcelona will be waiting to take advantage of any favours Atletico could do for them when they visit Malaga hours after the derby on the back of a 3-0 win over Sevilla.Coach Luis Enrique said Barcelona’s first half performance was “the display we had dreamt about”.The Catalans will be without Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Pique for the visit to Malaga, who picked up only their second win of 2017 by winning 1-0 at Sporting Gijon on Wednesday to move eight points clear of the relegation zone. Any slip up from Real would allow Barcelona to move top when they travel to Malaga later today. Enrique is expected to rest some of his star names ahead of their Champions League quarterfinal.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegramlast_img read more