Carlo Ancelotti insists that La Liga pacesetters Real Madrid won’t be settling for a draw when they visit local rivals Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Real Madrid beat Sevilla 2-1 on Wednesday to move four points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Primera División and seven points above defending champions Atlético. But, despite having also failed to beat Atlético in five matches this season -- losing both matches at the Vicente Calderón -- Ancelotti is targeting all three points.
“We're not afraid,” he said in his pre-match press conference, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “Atlético work very hard, particularly in defense. They are one of the best defending. We'll be thinking about that, about how to pull them out of position.
“We didn't play well in the cup, we're in the most important part of the season and it's a derby. All of that creates a lot of excitement and expectation. We preparing well and we're confident. We'll play well and I'm convinced we'll win. Our intention is to go out and win.”
Real Madrid’s task is complicated, though, by a double injury blow suffered last time out. James Rodríguez is expected to miss two months after breaking a bone in his foot, while Sergio Ramos will be out for five weeks with a hamstring injury. Ramos’ absence is particularly problematic. With fellow central defender Pepe also ruled out, Raphael Varane will be partnered by Nacho in the derby. Adding to their defensive woes, Marcelo will also be missing, having had a one-match ban for picking up five yellow cards upheld. Ancelotti’s squad will, though, be boosted by the return from a two-match suspension of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
The match comes just over three weeks since the sides last met, when a 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu wasn’t enough to prevent Real Madrid being knocked out of the Copa del Rey following Atlético’s 2-0 home win in the first leg. Atlético also won at home in the Spanish Supercup, but manager Diego Simeone is not taking his side’s fine recent record for granted.
“One was the Supercup and the season was just starting,” he said, reports AS. “The other was the Copa del Rey. This will be a completely different game. We are always very respectful towards all our opponents and we know we are playing an excellent team with great players and a great coach. We will approach the game with our philosophy so that we can play the kind of game we want to.”
Simeone has confirmed that the scorer of two goals the last time the two sides met, Fernando Torres, will miss out on a starting place, as he instead opts for the partnership of Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann. After being knocked out of the following round of the Copa del Rey following two defeats to Barcelona, Atlético won 3-1 at Eibar at the weekend for a third consecutive La Liga win. But they now face the possibility of slipping 10 points behind Real Madrid in La Liga. And, while Simeone has no interest in discussing that prospect, it would surely spell the end of their title defense.
Prediction: Despite beating Sevilla, Real Madrid’s defense was far from secure, especially after Ramos exited. If Griezmann is on form then his pace can certainly cause a makeshift back line problems at the Calderón. Atlético’s rearguard is also less robust than it was last season, and the returning Ronaldo and in-form Karim Benzema will pose a real threat. The match could be a fairly tight affair as a hole, however. Madrid should be better equipped to go toe-to-toe in the midfield battle, with the more physical Sami Khedira or more defensively minded Asier Illarramendi set to replace James. Ultimately, Real Madrid will not be too unhappy to come away with a point.
Atlético Madrid 1-1 Real Madrid
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EST
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect