Real Madrid Can Reinforce Title Credentials by Breaking Atletico Madrid Hoodoo

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2015

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Marca's response, predictably, was savage. 

"Ancelotti shellshocked," roared the Madrid-based daily in the aftermath of Atletico Madrid's 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid in early February. "Crisis meetings on the cards," it added a day later in reference to Real, before quickly barking the more ominous-sounding "Florentino on the warpath".

According to Marca, Carlo Ancelotti had "run out of ideas" in the face of his side's crosstown rivals, "inquisition time" was coming to the Bernabeu and president Florentino Perez had "openly admitted his rage" about the events at the Vicente Calderon.

Stern stuff.

But amid the cries of a crisis, there was a fractionally less dramatic but equally important headline: "Simeone, the miracle worker."

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Head coach Diego Simeone of Club Atletico de Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at Vicente Calderon Stadium on February 7, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Gett
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Some might suggest "miracle" is too far of a stretch; it's not as if Diego Simeone had steered tiny Eibar to a mauling of Real—he'd done so with the Spanish champions. But even if it is a stretch, "miracle" isn't that far from the truth.

The 4-0 annihilation of Los Blancos extended Atleti's unbeaten run against their more glamorous rivals to six games. Of those six, they've won four. And not once in that time have Los Colchoneros ever looked like losing. 

When you consider Atletico went 14 years without a single win against Real between 1999 and 2013, it's a remarkable reversal in fortunes. Thus, regardless of what others think, down on the banks of the Manzanares, Simeone is a miracle worker, a man Atleti midfielder Tiago once described as "god."

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As such, Atletico's inflicting of major damage on Real Madrid has come to represent the obvious blemish on Los Blancos' season. Last August, the men from the Calderon snatched away the Spanish Super Cup. In January, Simeone's overachievers knocked them out of the Copa del Rey. And in claiming a first league double over their cross-city tormentors for 64 years, Atleti are largely responsible for Real Madrid's position behind Barcelona in La Liga too.

Three competitions, two trophies denied and another one in jeopardy, all because of one team. That's serious damage. 

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Mario Mandzukic of Club Atletico de Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's 4th goal during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at Vicente Calderon Stadium on February 7, 2015 in Madrid, Spain
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Now, the lopsided war prepares to move onto a fourth frontier—the Champions League. 

For Atletico, confidence will be simmering; they've had Real's measure all season, why should this be any different? The chance to land the first blow at home is also likely to further buoy Simeone's hunters.

Yet, strangely, despite how one-sided it has been between these teams this season, Real Madrid have reason for optimism too. 

On each occasion these great foes have met in 2014-15, the European champions have been dealing with a new problem.

In the three quickfire meetings between late August and mid-September, Ancelotti's side was enduring the difficulties of transition, trying to incorporate new faces while simultaneously adjusting to a reworked shape and system.

When the Copa del Rey tie arrived, Real's players were being gripped by fatigue and an apparent hangover from 2014's record-breaking streak. And for that monumental thrashing in February, Ancelotti had only just lost James Rodriguez and Sergio Ramos to injury, adding to an absentee list that also featured Luka Modric and Pepe. 

Thus, Real have yet to enter one of this season's arm wrestles with Atleti in anywhere near their best shape. Each time, Los Blancos have faced unwanted obstacles. 

Atletico, smelling blood, have pounced.

But Tuesday's clash is set to be a little different. Real Madrid are healthy, stars were rested at the weekend, the first-choice midfield is available, Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to goalscoring form, three straight wins have been secured and a renewed freshness is evident throughout the squad. 

Unlike the six previous occasions, the traditional heavyweights of this contest are entering El Derbi madrileno on an upward trajectory. 

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07: Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball with Gabi Fernandez (L) of Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on February 7,
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Atletico, meanwhile, will be coming off a taxing draw with Malaga at the Rosaleda, one that was as end to end as any game you'll see in Spain, which was in great contrast to Real's second-gear waltz past Eibar. And this time, it's Atleti facing fitness issues, with both Mario Mandzukic and Diego Godin missing the club's most recent games and Jesus Gamez continuing to be used out of position as a makeshift left-back.

Though Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final clash is a meeting we've seen so often before this season, this occasion is set to have a different dynamic. The narratives surrounding both teams entering their seventh duel of the campaign have been altered only fractionally but enough to make a difference.  

If Real Madrid lose, an entire season will be on the brink of being derailed by one opponent; win, and the club's title credentials, both domestically and in Europe, will enjoy an immeasurable boost. 

All season long, Real Madrid have lost the battles with Atletico. But somehow, they still have a chance to win the war.


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