Real Madrid face the task of reversing their recent poor record against neighbors Atlético Madrid if they are to overturn a 2-0 deficit and progress to the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. Atlético won the first leg of the sides’ last-16 tie 2-0 at the Vicente Calderon last week to record their third straight victory over their illustrious rivals.
That run is quite a reversal from the 13 years and 25 matches Atlético went without beating Real Madrid before their memorable triumph in the final of the Copa del Rey at the Bernabeu in 2013. While Madrid claimed a dramatic win in the Champions League final last year, they have struggled this season to prevail against the intensity and defensive resilience of Diego Simeone’s men.
“We know Atlético well and we know how to play against them,” Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said, reports Spanish sports daily AS. "We must put in an intense game but keep a cool head. You need intensity to your game when you play against Atlético because they have one of the most well-organized defenses in Europe and it is always difficult to create openings against them.”
Defeat at the Calderon, courtesy of goals from Raul Garcia and Jose Gimenez, was Real Madrid’s second in succession after their Spanish-record 22 straight wins was ended by Valencia in their first match of 2015. But the European and world champions returned to winning ways with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Espanyol on Sunday that maintained their place at the top of La Liga. More good news was to follow the very next day when their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo retained his FIFA Ballon d’Or crown.
Conspicuous by their absence from the list of winners at the gala in Zurich, however, was any representative of the Atlético Madrid team that upset Spain’s big two to land the league title last season and came within 90 seconds of adding the Champions League title. Simeone lost out in the Coach of the Year race, while the likes of Diego Godin failed to be voted into the FIFPro World XI.
“These are only decisions -- ones which weren’t based on achievement,” Simeone said at his press conference on Wednesday. “We hope that in the future, our players will be accepted as potential candidates.”
Of far more concern to Simeone in recent days, though, will have been Atlético’s 3-1 defeat to Barcelona on Sunday that leaves them four points behind Real Madrid in the Primera Division standings and having played a game more. After their concentrated recent run of fixtures, Simeone has left open the possibility that he could once again rotate his side as he did for the first leg, but he insists he is taking nothing for granted at the Bernabeu.
“We have a positive result from the first leg but obviously, we’re playing against the world and European champions,” he said. “Even just changing one player from their first choice line-up we know that we have to put in a very balanced performance.”
After making his first start since returning to the club at the Bernabeu, Fernando Torres could be in line for a place in the lineup once again, due to an illness jeopardizing Mario Mandzukic’s participation. There is better news for Madrid, who will have Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos back in their squad. Alvaro Arbeloa and long-term injury victim Luka Modric miss out.
Prediction: Perhaps the two biggest questions heading into the second leg are whether Atlético Madrid have enough left in the tank to reproduce the intensity of their first-leg performance and whether Real Madrid are fully committed to overturning their deficit and thus ensuring a further fixture pileup. It is hard not to think there will be some drop off from Atlético and at the Bernabeu Ancelotti’s men should be better at converting their possession into chances. However, it may not be enough to see them progress, allowing Atlético to get a chance for revenge against probable quarterfinal opponents Barcelona.
Real Madrid 2-1 Atlético Madrid
Kickoff time: 2:00 pm ET
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: BeIN Sports Connect