Carlo Ancelotti will take his Real Madrid players across the city to meet Atletico Madrid on Sunday in their best form of the season. After moving thee points clear at the top of La Liga last weekend, the marker they laid down in Europe in midweek as they shook Schalke for six goals was an emphatic one.
Truth be told, this past week has been coming for a while—since they lost at Camp Nou back in November in fact.
Since that defeat Los Blancos have dodged defeat in the following 27 games in all competitions, winning 23 and drawing four. The turnaround from a five-point deficit to three-point advantage has been an impressive one.
And so they will hop across to the Vicente Calderon—after hammering Atleti in the recent Copa del Rey semi-final—with plenty of smiles and belief.
A lot of that belief lies in a front three which, after their masterclass in Germany on Wednesday, have drawn comparisons with the great Madrid trio of the 50s: Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento, as noted by Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail.
Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale all bagged braces in Gelsenkirchen, and the debate about involving Jese Rodriguez has muffled out a little as a consequence—all three of the BBC should start in the Derbi Madrileno.
Behind them, considering the magnitude of the game, there are unlikely to be many changes.
One change certain to take place is the restoration of Diego Lopez in goal. Iker Casillas remains the cup ‘keeper, but his fellow stopper still carries favour for league matches.
In front of Lopez, Ancelotti has no new injury concerns, other than Sami Khedira, who remains in Germany recovering from the knock he sustained playing a friendly for his national side earlier in the season.
The 10 players who started outfield at Schalke, including the back four of Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, trained inside together on Thursday, according to Marca, and it’s tempting to suggest the Italian coach will stick with the same defence.
Alvaro Arbeloa for Carvajal is one change which could happen, while Rapahel Varane is much more likely to pick up more minutes in the following week’s match at the Bernabeu against Levante.
It could be a similar story in midfield. Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Angel di Maria, who improves game on game in his new role, are undoubtedly Ancelotti’s preferred trio in the middle of the park, so all should keep their places against Atleti.
Despite the Copa success, Real's players will feel they still have scores to settle with their city neigbours this weekend.
Last year’s defeat in the King’s Cup final—ending Atleti’s 14-year hoodoo against Real—and this season’s 1-0 defeat at the Bernabeu still hurt, and both will provide ammunition for the players to raise their performances in a bid to open up a six-point gap between the sides.
Ancelotti will surely feel the same—as he said himself, now "it's time to talk about titles" (h/t Marca)—and that is why he will shy away from any unnecessary rotations.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Diego Lopez; Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric, Angel di Maria; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
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