MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from Matchday 22 from La Liga.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid | Saturday 1st February 2020, 15:00
Curiously, Real Madrid have failed to win this fixture at home in the league since December 2012 but, given the current state of both teams, it appears probable that this run will finally come to an end on Saturday afternoon…
Bookmakers are giving Diego Simeone’s men plenty of respect this weekend given their incredibly impressive record at the home of their eternal rivals but this derby feels different. The Argentine coach no longer has “his” men to count on; the experience of Diego Godin, Juanfran, Felipe Luis etc was crucial in these games, to be able to ride the pressure when on the ropes.
In his pre-game press conference last season, Diego Simeone remarked how ‘A derby against Madrid is a derby of emotions and men,’ but it seems that this is precisely what Atleti are lacking for a fixture of this magnitude. This team no longer has that mental and physical steeliness, that bit of nasty street-wiseness.
Atlético are no longer a nightmare to play against; they work hard but they are no longer the win-at-all-costs dogs who used every trick in the book to get over the line and those small margins make all the difference in a Simeone system.
We documented Diego Simeone’s struggles here in December and things have plummeted further lower in recent weeks. Los rojiblancos have failed to win in their last three games, scoring once against Segunda B side Cultural Leonesa before being dumped out of the Copa Del Rey in embarrassing fashion. This result was sandwiched by a defeat at Eibar and a woeful scoreless draw at home to Leganes.
Atletico have by far the greatest negative disparity in La Liga in terms of xG. They have scored 22 goals in 21 games while the numbers say they should have had roughly 12 more. This suggests a mixture of bad luck and waywardness in front of goal, which is true – to an extent. There are teams where the numbers fail to tell the whole story and Atletico Madrid is one.
The eye test would, in fact, reveal a team devoid of any cohesive creativity in midfield, a disjointed attack and a nervous defence.
Let’s not kid ourselves; Diego Simeone’s teams have never been bastions of attacking prowess but this feels different. It still resembles a Cholo team on the outside but under the surface the foundation has rotted away and all that’s left is Simeone himself, gesticulating in desperation. Quite simply, when a Simeone team loses its fire it’s pretty damn ordinary.
“It still resembles a Cholo team on the outside but under the surface the foundation has rotted away and all that’s left is Simeone himself, gesticulating in desperation.”
Moreover, Atleti’s away form against quality teams has been atrocious over the last 12 months; they failed to win any of their games at Villarreal, Juventus, Sevilla, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao.
On the other side of Madrid, the mood could hardly be more different. Zidane’s men are unbeaten in all competitions since 19th October – a run spanning 20 games – conceding a miserly nine goals. They are still over-dependant on Karim Benzema in attack but a rock-solid defence and the form of Casemiro, Fede Valverde and Toni Kroos in midfield has been key.
The squad has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks to try and ease the Benzema burden and Madrid have already recorded 11 different goalscorers in 2020. Despite their excellent form, question marks still hang over Zidane’s side, especially in attack and on Saturday we will see if they have learned from frustrating stalemates against Athletic Bilbao in the Bernabeu and Atleti in the Supercopa.
Who to watch
Toni Kroos is likely to be heavily involved given the inevitable dominance of possession that Madrid will enjoy. The German international has been superb for Madrid this season, contributing four goals and eight assists thus far, and his set-piece delivery could once again prove crucial in this one especially for the likes of Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Raphael Varane, three huge threats in the opposition penalty area.
Once again, the Brazilian appeals in the First Goalscorer market at the prices having already wracked four goals and three assists; not bad for a player who is viewed by many as an out and out defensive midfielder.
Varane is another player I will be willing to take a small each-way punt on. Given the quality of Kroos’s deliveries the Frenchman will have his chances against a fragile Atleti defence. The 1-0 and 2-0 scorecast for both could also be worth a couple of shillings.
Everything points to this being a low-scoring affair and the 0-0 is still a big player but it feels like Atletico might finally run out of luck at the home of their biggest rivals.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Real Madrid to win (9/10 Marathon)
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Casemiro to score first each-way (20/1 each-way Bet365)
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Raphael Varane to score first each-way (40/1 each-way Bet365)
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Casemiro to score first, Real Madrid to win and Under 2.5 Goals (50/1 Bet365)
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Raphael Varane to score first, Real Madrid to win and Under 2.5 Goals (100/1 Bet365)
Week 22 Predictions:
Granada v Espanyol X
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid 1
Mallorca v Real Valladolid X
Valencia v Celta Vigo 1
Leganes v Real Sociedad 2
Eibar v Real Betis X
Athletic Club v Getafe X
Sevilla v Alaves 1
Villarreal v Osasuna 1
Barcelona v Levante 1
1 = home win, 2 = away win, x = draw
Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) is an Irish journalist living and working in Madrid. A season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Majadahonda, he covers all things football in the Spanish capital, from Estadio Butarque to the Wanda Metropolitano.