Real Madrid will be without central defender Raphael Varane as they attempt to ensure that their season does not end empty-handed when they take on neighbors Atletico Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey. Varane suffered a knee injury in Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Espanyol last weekend, a result that ensured that the Liga title would be heading back to Barcelona after spending a single season with Los Blancos. Raul Albiol is likely to be the man to replace Varane at Madrid’s own Bernabeu stadium, with Pepe out of favor following his recent public criticism of manager Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Iker Casillas.
That incident was the latest piece of unrest to emerge from the Real Madrid dressing room in what has been of season of turmoil for the club. Mourinho is widely expected to exit as soon as the terms of his departure can be agreed, having seemingly fallen out with almost everyone at the Bernabeu. But following their Champions League exit to Borussia Dortmund last month, defender Sergio Ramos is determined to repay the faith of the club’s fans and bring a positive end to a difficult campaign.
“A title is at stake and we have to be demanding and defend the crest until the end,” Ramos said, according to the official Real Madrid website. “After what happened in the Champions League, which was the last game in the Bernabeu with loads of enthusiasm, we have to try to win the Copa in honor of the fans, to return the affection we felt the day of the match against Borussia.”
Madrid have no other injury concerns, with Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo and Mesut Ozil all expected to shake off slight problems.
Their city rivals Atletico have a clean bill of health, with midfielder Mario Suarez recovering from a back problem that kept him out of the 2-1 defeat to Barcelona last time out. Indeed, manager Diego Simeone has already named his starting lineup, which will be spearheaded by Radamel Falcao.
It has been a hugely positive first full season for Atletico under Simeone, but the club would love to end it with a major trophy. A victory over Madrid would also help correct a woeful record against their more illustrious neighbors that has seen them fail to win in 25 attempts dating back to 1999.
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Arbeloa, Ramos, Albiol, Coentrao
M: Khedira, Alonso
Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo
Atletico Madrid (confirmed)
D: Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis
Turan, Diego Costa, Koke
Prediction: Despite all the problems and speculation off the pitch, Madrid have largely continued to perform at a high level on it. Indeed, they have gone 15 games unbeaten domestically, winning 13 of those.
For all their progress this season, Atletico have continued to hit a road block, not only against Madrid, but also against Spain’s other giants Barcelona. Evidence that their problems are in large part mental was seen last month when they took an early lead against a largely second string Madrid team before falling to a limp 2-1 defeat. While it would make for a great story for Atletico to end their unwanted streak in the Copa del Rey final, it is hard to envisage that happening with the extra burden of a trophy being on the line.
The fact that Madrid will have the home comforts, although only half the support, from playing in the Bernabeu should also help and Mourinho should pick up a final trophy before making his exit.
Real Madrid 2-1 Atletico Madrid
Where to watch: The Copa deal Rey final will kick-off at 3.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN and ESPN Deportes, with a live stream available on ESPN3.