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Ultimate Guide to La Liga Weekend: Real Madrid, Not Atletico, in Shape for Derby

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2015

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14: Raphael Varane of Real Madrid and Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at Estadio Vicente Calderon stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Jornada 7 in La Liga brings plenty of interesting matches, but one which stands out above all others as Real Madrid approach the biggest game of their season, away to Atletico Madrid.

The derby finds Real very much in shape, in all forms of the phrase: in shape with their recent form, which has seen them win six of the last seven and take seven clean sheets from their eight matches this season; in shape with their tactics, as Rafael Benitez sees early success with his lineups, rotations and altering midfield structure...and, importantly, in shape physically.

AS report Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos should be back in contention for selection at the Vicente Calderon, having both missed games of late through injury. There is also the possibility that James Rodriguez may make his return from the sidelines for the game, though he isn't yet in full training.

In terms of squad selection, most are straightforward: James will only make the bench, Ramos will come straight in for Nacho at the back, and Bale's fitness will determine whether he comes into the XI—but with none of Jese, Mateo Kovacic or Casemiro having done enough to absolutely demand they start the game, it's likely that Bale could slot straight back in from the start.

Atletico, by contrast, have both Koke out injured and Fernando Torres training apart from the main group in the build-up, per AS, and have lost three of their last six in all competitions.

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Head coach Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico de Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arr
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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Last season, this exact fixture was a textbook performance from Diego Simeone's men, as they trampled all over Carlo Ancelotti's team and ran out 4-0 winners with a superb all-round display of aggression, clinical finishing and tireless pressing.

The same and more will be needed this time around, with Real looking far more comfortable in possession than they did last year and certainly a much tougher side to break down. It also helps that Keylor Navas isn't dropping everything aimed his way, which Iker Casillas was last year.

At the other end, Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't have dreamed of a better setting to become Real Madrid's all-time leading scorer. He's currently on 323, level with Raul, but reached the target somewhat quicker than the legendary Spaniard.

Cristiano Ronaldo tops Real Madrid goals list in 433 games fewer than Raul—or about 8 seasons http://t.co/BxB79bETlC pic.twitter.com/J193ASLls1

— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) October 1, 2015

Benitez knows he can't do without his No. 7, and his undroppable star will be one of the main avenues for Real to win the game on Sunday—despite only actually scoring in one Liga match so far this season. Per Marca, the manager noted Ronaldo's achievements after the Malmo match in midweek: "I already said he was irreplaceable for us and he's proven that again."

Already the first verbal attacks have gone out. Alvaro Arbeloa isn't likely to feature in the game but still sent a barb the way of his rivals by calling the fixture "Atleti's game of the year," per Marca. Not best pleased, Atleti captain Gabi was dismissive in response: "You can tell he hasn't seen us play much."

Both teams will certainly get a first close look at each other on Sunday, and it's not wildly speculative to suggest it's a game Atletico, more than Real, need to find a big result in already.

Jornada 7 (BST kick-off times listed on Soccerway)

Friday

Celta Vigo vs. Getafe 

Saturday

Sevilla vs. Barcelona

Granada vs. Deportivo La Coruna

Espanyol vs. Sporting Gijon

Las Palmas vs. Eibar

Malaga vs. Real Sociedad

Sunday

Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Betis

Athletic Club vs. Valencia

Levante vs. Villarreal

Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid

What to Watch out for This Week

Part 1: The Early (Unexpected) Front-Runners

Celta Vigo and Villarreal have both already been top of La Liga this season, and both have already taken victories over big guns, namely Barcelona and Atletico Madrid respectively.

The two have an opportunity to continue their fine starts to the season against modest opposition, with Celta getting the gameweek under way on Friday night at home to Getafe. The visitors are inconsistent, to say the least, and concede chances as well as having an amount of creativity themselves.

The Yellow Submarine are away to Levante, one of just two teams who are yet to win in La Liga this season. Villarreal will be confident of taking another three points on the road, which will guarantee them top spot at the end of the weekend once more.

Part 2: Wide Threats to Determine "Bottom-Half" Clashes

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Luis Alberto of RC Deportivo la Coruna celebrates after scoring Deportivo's 2nd goal during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In saying "bottom-half" we're referring here to teams normally expected to be in 11th place or lower, not talking about their early-season league standing. Deportivo and Eibar have both begun the year well and are in sixth and seventh respectively, but playing away to Granada and Las Palmas are games that, in normal circumstances, would be considered decisive in arranging the lower fringes of the table.

For both matches, and indeed the Rayo-Betis fixture, look to the offensive players in wide areas to be the difference between draws, defeats and vital victories.

Joaquin (Betis), Isaac Success (Granada), Keko (Eibar) and Luis Alberto (Deportivo) have all been excellent in different games already this term, and they, along with the service from the wing-backs of Las Palmas, are the danger men in their respective games.

Player to Watch: Munir, FCB

(L-R) Castellano of Las palmas, Munir El Haddadi of FC Barcelona during the Primera Division match between FC Barcelona and Las Palmas on September 26, 2015 at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Barcelona will need to rotate and give significant game time to both Munir and Sandro Ramirez over the coming weeks, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Rafinha and Andres Iniesta all out injured.

Sandro was given the start in the Champions League in midweek but had little impact, but Munir was impressive once he replaced his team-mate in the second half. A couple of assists in recent games is the sort of impact Luis Enrique will want from the youngsters, and Munir could well have done enough to ensure he gets the nod to start against Sevilla.

If he does, most likely from the right, the Catalan side need to see more from him right from kick-off if Munir is to establish himself as a regular starter in Messi's absence. Sevilla haven't been great defensively this season, but left-back Benoit Tremoulinas is an excellent performer.

Game of the Weekend: Sevilla vs. Barcelona

The Madrid derby might be the big storyline, but for chances in both penalty boxes and with both teams needing to keep picking up the points, the Sanchez Pizjuan is where the action should be.

Sevilla have been nothing short of horrible this season—unsure of formation or method of attack, few recognisable patterns of play from last season and a very porous defence at times. Barcelona, meanwhile, have great results behind them but an ever-dwindling squad list to choose from.

A win for either is a big result in this fixture just as a standalone scoreline, but given the situation both are in right now, it would be an even bigger boost than usual. 

Predictions

  • Atletico to bounce back and win the Madrid derby
  • Seven games and no goals for Malaga
  • Villarreal still top after the weekend
  • Sevilla-Barcelona to have the most goals

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