Madrid, Dec 11 (IANS) Sunday’s Madrid derby between Real and Atletico Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is one of the most important games of the season to date and could go a long way towards determining this season’s title winners.
Defending champions Atletico travel to the Bernabeu 10 points behind their neighbours and although they have a game in hand over Real Madrid, defeat would all but end their title defense.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone saw his side win 3-1 away to Porto on Tuesday night to assure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League, but Atletico have been irregular in front of goal all campaign, while their defense has lacked the reliability that has been their trademark in recent years.
Simeone isn’t helped by injuries to key central defenders Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez, while first choice right back Kieran Trippier is also sidelined, as is Sime Vrsaljko, who broke his jaw in Porto.
Luis Suarez is also unlikely to be fit, which should give the more mobile Angel Correa the chance to start, while Mario Hermoso should partner Felipe in central defense, with Geoffrey Kondogbia playing in a defensive midfield role, reports Xinhua.
Real Madrid have been virtually unstoppable in recent weeks and although their performances haven’t always been as good as their results, someone has always stepped forward to decide games in their favour, be it (former Atletico) goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois or strikers Karim Benzema or Vinicius Jr.
Benzema is a doubt for Sunday’s match with a muscle problem he picked up in San Sebastian last weekend, but could make the bench, while Luka Jovic scored and set up a goal after replacing the Frenchman a week ago.
Marco Asensio has also showed signs of recovering his best form in recent games and is another player who can score a goal out of virtually nothing.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is likely to stick with his first-choice side, which will see David Alaba and Eder Militao in central defense behind Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos with Vinicius Jr, Asensio and probably Jovic in attack.
If Real Madrid do win, they will have eliminated a major title rival and with Barca struggling, it is hard to see anyone stopping them on the road to another title.