For the first time in many years, the Spanish league is taking a new dimension. Unlike in the past, the La Liga which usually is a two-horse race has moved to a three-horse affair.
Atletico Madrid are the new addition in the quest for the La Liga trophy. Diego Simeone side has shown some level of consistency in the past two years and is fighting hard to claim the title.
This weekend encounter between the two Madrid sides, Real and Atletico thus assumes a more important dimension given latter’s recent showing in the league. Real, who are unbeaten in 26 matches in all competitions, travel to Estadio Vicente Calderón stadium to do battle with Atletico Madrid in a match that might determine who wins the League.
Madrid fell 0-1 to Atletico the first time the two sides met at the Santiago Bernerbau. The visiting side Atletico displayed a superb display to earn a deserved victory against the Whites.
Atletico coach Simeone adopted a 4-4-2 formation in that match. Real dominated possession but Atletico always seemed comfortable, protecting their back four excellently and creating a succession of fine chances at the other end.
A couple of years ago, it was extremely rare to see a 4-4-2 against 4-4-2 in one of Europe’s biggest games, but the formation seems to have enjoyed something of resurgence in 2013/14.
That made the tactical battle extremely simple – every player had a clear responsibility in terms of who to track. It was rare to see anyone enjoying a particular amount of space between the lines, and neither side had a particular zone where they were enjoying a clear numerical advantage. It was one of the most basic tactical battles you’ll ever see at this level.
Nevertheless, there was a clear difference between the sides in terms of organisation and structure. As we’ve come to expect from Simeone’s side, Atletico were extremely disciplined with their positioning throughout the game.
The away side was amazingly compact and narrow, essentially boxing themselves into a small area in the centre of the pitch. The wide players tucked in, much closer to the centre of the pitch than to the touchlines, and crowded out Real’s central midfielders, denying them the opportunity to play any forward passes. Diego Costa and David Villa were a strike partnership on paper, but on the pitch they were almost auxiliary central midfielders, denying the Real defenders the option of easy passes into the central midfield zone.
Atlético’s La Liga title challenge faltered when they slumped to a shock 3-0 defeat at Osasuna on Sunday that left Real Madrid three points clear at the top.
It was the first time Atlético had conceded three goals in the first half since Simeone took over as coach at the end of 2011.
Madrid have gone almost four months since losing in a competitive game. The last time the side lost was on the 16th of November, and since then they have gone 26 games unbeaten. This run is, along with the one achieved in the 96/97 season when Capello was manager, the second best in the club’s history, with one exception. Then the side won 18 games and drew seven, whereas now they have won 21 and only drawn four.
15 of these 26 undefeated game have come in the league (13 victories and two draws), eight have been in the Copa del Rey (seven wins) and three more in the Champions League (two wins and a draw).
Los Blancos have been nothing short of brilliant this season. Cristiano Ronaldo has taken a step back and it is Jese and Di Maria, Benzema and Gareth Bale who have really impressed for Ancelotti’s team. Their continued defensive improvement is obvious, while their passing and movement in the midfield have also been exemplary. It certainly appears that the capital outfit is hitting top form at the right time of the season.
Los Blancos will be boasted with the availability of top scorer Ronaldo in the team. It’s been a while since Ronaldo last played a vital match for Real Madrid. After being sent off in Real’s 1-1 draw at San Mamés against Athletic Bilbao, the current Ballon D’Or winner missed Madrid’s three dominant wins against Villarreal, Getafe and Elche. He was on the pitch for both Copa del Rey derbies against Atlético, but it has been two weeks since he wore the white shirt.
If Ronaldo used those 15 days to rest and get ready for Madrid’s upcoming challenge against Atlético on Sunday in what could be a decisive game for the Liga title, Madrid will surely end up benefiting from that three-match ban.
By: Anthony Nlebem