Tactical Battles That Will Shape Atletico Madrid's Clash with Real Madrid
Sparks will fly on Sunday when Atletico Madrid host city rivals Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. With Los Blancos now three points clear at the top of the table, Diego Simeone's men will be looking to bring themselves level.
The Madrid derby is always a spectacular event. Over the last two seasons, Atletico Madrid have had the upper hand, but Real Madrid have begun to edge ahead after eliminating their rivals from the Copa del Rey.
No matter the outcome, fans can expect a thrilling contest between these two Spanish giants. Both sides will be looking to take all three points, and you can guarantee that the stars will be on display.
From top to bottom, there will be individual battles that shape the outcome of the game. Yet, there are always those tactical battles that stand out from all the others.
In this article we will take a look at the most important tactical battles that will take place on Sunday and discuss how the derby could play out at the Vicente Calderon.
All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com
Luka Modric vs. Gabi and Tiago
The most intriguing battle to watch will certainly be the fight for the midfield. Both clubs will be looking to take control of the middle of the pitch, and there will surely be a lot going on in and around the center circle.
For Real Madrid, Luka Modric is key. The magical Croatian has been their creator and orchestrator all season and will play a vital role against Atletico on Sunday.
Modric has only given six assists this season, but don't let that fool you. The 28-year-old is completing 90 percent of his passes this season, making 1.5 key passes a game as well as completing just over six long balls in 90 minutes.
It is clear that Modric has a lot to do with the success of the Real Madrid attack. His ability to create and get the ball to the forwards cannot be understated, and he will need to be at his best to ensure a victory at the Calderon.
However, there will be two men standing in his way.
Atletico's Tiago and Gabi have been a fearsome pair for the last few years and will again be looking to lock down their opponents in the center of the pitch. They will directly oppose Modric, and it will be an entertaining duel to watch.
The Atletico duo have combined to make just over seven tackles and three interceptions per game. Their ability to cut off passing lanes and provide defensive strength in the midfield has been one of the club's keys to success and will continue to be vital on Sunday.
Tiago and Gabi will have their hands full against Real Madrid. Not only will they have to work hard to nullify Modric, they will also have to keep an eye on Cristiano Ronaldo and company. It isn't going to be easy.
Diego Costa vs. Sergio Ramos
If Atletico Madrid are going to score against their city rivals on Sunday, it will be because of the danger that is Diego Costa. The Brazilian striker has already netted 21 times this La Liga campaign and will be looking to add more.
Costa's ability to break through defenses and shake off opponents is incredible. His physicality and eye for goal makes him a constant threat, but he's also a referee warning waiting to happen.
The 25-year-old is known for having a short fuse and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. If he can keep his cool, Atletico will have a much better chance for success.
Sergio Ramos will be one of the defenders tasked with stopping Costa, which could provide for fan enjoyment.
Ramos is also a loose cannon who constantly sees his name go into the referee's book. He is similar to Costa in the way he plays with reckless abandon; watching these two go at it will a fun to see.
In the end, both players could definitely see a card. But the player who is able to keep their cool the best will likely be the one who wins the battle.
Will Costa be able to break down Ramos and find the back of the net? Will Ramos frustrate the Atletico striker into making mistakes? It's going to be a good one.
The Real Madrid Attack vs. Atletico's Defensive Wall
This one comes as no surprise. Real Madrid are right now one of the most efficient and deadly attacking sides in Europe, while Atletico Madrid are arguably the top defensive side around.
Real Madrid have not lost a game since the start of the New Year. But what is most impressive is the fact that they have managed to score 39 goals in 2014 with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Jese and others finding red-hot form.
Los Blancos do not shy away from taking their chances in front of goal, and you can bet on them making things really hard for Atletico Madrid.
Yet, if there is one team in Spain capable of dealing with the Real Madrid onslaught, it would be Atletico Madrid. They may not have fared well in their Copa del Rey meetings, but Los Colchoneros have what it takes to slow down Ronaldo and company.
The back line of Atletico is second to none in the game today. The centre-backs know how to position themselves well and create a wall in front of Thibaut Courtois, while the full-backs are more than capable of holding their own in defense.
Atletico Madrid have only conceded 19 goals in La Liga play, the lowest of any of the Spanish clubs, but Real Madrid leads the league in goals scored with 71. It is clearly a battle of the best offense against the best defense. Anyone could win this.
Carlo Ancelotti vs. Diego Simeone
The players will take the field on Sunday and give everything they've got for over 90 minutes. Some will make mistakes, some will get lucky and others will have those moments that define the game.
Yes, the players will be the ones who decide the outcome of the match. But the biggest tactical battle is going on behind the scenes.
For days, Diego Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti have been preparing their squads for this match. Both managers are terrific at what they do and understand the magnitude of this meeting.
When the players do step onto the pitch at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday, everything that takes place will come back to what the managers worked on in the days leading up to the encounter.
Simeone has proved himself time and again as one of the best managers in the game who knows how to inspire his players. At the same time, Ancelotti has been able to get the very best out of this Real Madrid team and has experience on his side.
Both managers have been looking forward to this match just as much as the players. We should expect some surprises and interesting tactics, but in the end this match will be won by the side who makes the most out of their chances.
Real Madrid may be favorites going into the clash due to recent performances, but you can never count out Atletico Madrid, especially at the Vicente Calderon.
Who will be victorious on Sunday? Which tactical battles will decide the outcome of the Madrid derby? Leave your thoughts and comments below!