Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid: Top Match-Winners Likely to Settle Madrid Derby

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Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid: Top Match-Winners Likely to Settle Madrid Derby
Daniel Ochoa De Olza/Associated Press
The Madrid derby is set to go to battle as Real and Atletico prepare for war.

It is always a fiery and often frantic affair as the Madrid derby takes place, but this time around, it's all to play for.

So it's about time that we take a look at which players could sway the derby for their side and which ones have a real chance to state their club's claim on this year's La Liga title.

Atletico Madrid have home advantage as Los Galacticos visit Estadio Vicente Calderon, and with just three points separating table-topping Real from third-placed Atletico, the hosts have a real chance of continuing their charge for their first title since 1996.

Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti's side will be looking to extend its lead over its fierce rivals and regain the title after losing out to Barcelona last season.

Per WhoScored.com, Real have won the majority of meetings between the two sides, but Atletico's 1-0 win in the reverse fixture showed that anything can happen on the day—such is the beautiful game.

Real Madrid will have to be a lot more drilled in on the offside trap if they're to stop Diego Costa and David Villa once again, though.

 

Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo

Frank Augstein/Associated Press
Ronaldo slots home in 6-1 win over Schalke 04.

Possibly the biggest boost for the visitors ahead of the match is Cristiano Ronaldo returning from his three-match ban and looking set to feature in the derby.

The 22-goal man looks set to partner with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in a three-pronged attack, which has hauled 46 goals between them this season.

But it's not just Ronaldo's goalscoring ability that makes him a potential match-winner in this game; his leadership and ability to pick a pinpoint pass is just as crucial.

His double against Schalke 04 in the Champions League, in a match where the Portuguese winger also set up two goals, highlighted his importance to the team as a creator as much as a scorer:

However, it will be tough for Ronaldo to breach an Atletico defence that has shipped just 19 league goals this season, so patience may need to be at a premium if Real are to get revenge over their city counterparts.

 

Gareth Bale

Frank Augstein/Associated Press
Bale celebrates his contribution as Benzema scores.

Since his summer transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, Bale's maiden season in Spain has been mesmerizing as he has taken to life in the Spanish capital with ease.

His 10 goals and nine assists in 14 matches have justified Carlo Ancelotti's decision to splash out on the £86 million winger, and his personal statistics show just how vital he has been to Real's title push.

Despite a succession of injuries, Bale has been passed fit for the derby and tweeted of his excitement to get the game underway:

But much like Ronaldo, Bale and his team-mates will have to be cool, calm and collected if they are to profit against their fierce rivals.

Per WhoScored.com, one of Atletico's weaknesses has been keeping possession of the ball, and if Real are to make their own possession play count, they will have to feed off scraps and take their chances.

Atletico's usually resilient back four of Juanfran, Alderweireld, Godin and Luis shipped three goals against mid-table Osasuna last time out and will be looking to make amends to shut out Bale.

 

Atletico Madrid

Diego Costa

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press
Comeback needed: Costa and Atletico need to rebound after 3-0 defeat by Osasuna.

Diego Costa looks set to lead the line with David Villa in the derby, and with 21 La Liga goals to his name already this season, there's no doubt that he will provide Atletico's main threat once again.

The 25-year-old scored the winner in the reverse fixture, breaking Real's offside trap to slot coolly into the net—a goal which showed Costa's class with the goal at his mercy.

Per WhoScored.com, Costa has also completed 75.7 percent of passes during league matches this season, as he brings team-mates into the game with aplomb while hunting his own scoring opportunities.

Perform assistant producer Charlotte Gurney tweeted of her excitement ahead of the derby, and pinpointed Costa as one to watch:

It looks set to be up to centre-back pairing Pepe and Sergio Ramos to keep Costa at bay once again, but with a packed home crowd watching and baiting, the back four must keep their heads and keep mistakes to a minimum.

 

Thibaut Courtois

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press
Courtois will be hoping to stay this lonely during the derby.

With an excellent defence in front of him, you could forgive Thibaut Courtois for keeping his gloves relatively clean this season.

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However, that won't be the case as Real look to extend their lead over Atletico and second-placed Barcelona to six points.

The Atletico stopper has missed just two league games all season but has been on the wrong side of three yellow cards. This will have to be kept in check against Real, as the last thing his side can afford is to see its first-choice 'keeper sent off, leaving an uphill task for Los Rojiblancos.

Speaking with AS (h/t Football Espana), Courtois admitted that the match with Real is more like a final than a traditional derby:

Yes [it’s like a final]. As they are three points ahead we have no choice but to win and return to the top of the table. It’s going to be a tough match because Madrid are playing well.

They hardly concede goals and score two or three every game. We’re expecting a great game in the Calderón that we will win.

Courtois continued, heaping praise on Costa since the side's switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation and noting his thoughts on how Atletico could win the match:

The team is used to playing in a certain way. Diego is a great player and he likes to get on the ball and look for space. The way we play has changed a little bit compared to a couple of years ago.

Diego has to adapt to it and we have to adapt to him - the problem is that we are at a stage in the season when games are coming thick and fast, without too many training sessions in the middle and for the gaffer finding a solution is not easy.

Against La Real he started really well. Diego is not the one losing these games. The team in general played worse than in other games. Seeing who defends better. Closing down and concentrating, keeping a clean sheet because up front we’re going to get chances.

It's not just Real and Atletico fans who will be watching with hope, though, as Barcelona know that a win for Atletico could open the door to reduce Real's lead.

Barcelona sit just three points behind Real in second, level on points with Atletico, and still have matches against the Madrid pair before the end of the season.

Gerardo Martino's side faces Atletico on the final day of the La Liga season. If Barcelona are to keep up hopes of retaining the title, there's no doubt that they'll be keeping everything crossed for a home win.

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