Tough tests for Real begin with visit to Atletico
THERE is a vague, generalised sentiment across Spain at the moment that Real Madrid are top of La Liga more because of the slip-ups of their rivals than because of their own merits. And that the quality and character of The Whites has not yet been properly tested so far this season.
All that will now change, in a difficult five-week period that will see Cristiano Ronaldo and company visit Atletico and Barcelona – and then fly off to Japan for the Club World Cup.
“We know that we have a testing period ahead of us now. We will have to be very organised and alert,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane said.
“Everybody wants to beat the team that are leaders and also champions of Europe... These games will be very difficult.”
Zidane will be able to count on veterans Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric, who are fit again after long absences. However, Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Alvaro Morata are all out of action.
Real, the only unbeaten team left in La Liga, are six points ahead of a fourthplaced Atletico side who know they have no option but to beat their old crosstown rivals.
“We really need to close the gap at the top, and that means winning on Saturday,” Atletico captain Gabi said.
“Real are an excellent team, but we have beaten them several times before – and I really believe we are going to do so again.”
Antoine Griezmann (pix) should be fit to lead the Atletico attack, despite missing France’s Tuesday friendly against Ivory Coast, and Nicolas Gaitan is ready to return.
When asked for a forecast on the Madrid derby, former Real left-back Roberto Carlos said: “That is difficult to do. It will be a great match.
“I only lost once against Atletico in 11 years, but they have become a much stronger team in recent years.”
Real have not won in the Estadio Calderon in La Liga since 2013. It will be the last derby staged there before Atletico move to their new stadium next summer.
Tomorrow also sees second-placed Barcelona at home to midtable Malaga, with Barca’s famed strike force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar possibly tired after their trips back to South America for World Cup qualifiers.
“Barca always seem to struggle straight after the national team matches. Let’s hope that this problem does not recur against Malaga,”
The weekend’s other matches are Real Betis vs Las Palmas, Eibar vs Celta Vigo, Alaves vs Espanyol, Sporting Gijon vs Real Sociedad, Valencia vs Granada and Leganes vs Osasuna. – dpa