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Carlo Ancelotti’s side are the strongest team in Spain right now and we should that reflected in this must-see derby.
Back Real Madrid to beat Atletico Madrid on Sunday (+112)
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Real Madrid just keep on rolling. A 2-0 victory over Real Sociedad last weekend extended the Blancos’ winning run to six straight games in La Liga. In the process, they have opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the La Liga table. It is true that some of the sides below them have a game in hand on the league leaders, but there is no doubt that Madrid are the team to beat in Spain this season. Their odds to win the title have been cut to -400 after their latest success over a Real Sociedad team who had lost only one of their previous 13 matches.
Madrid have scored the most goals in La Liga – and by some distance. Atletico Madrid have the second most productive attack but have found the back of the net 10 times fewer than their rivals. Madrid’s defensive record is only the fourth-best in the division, but they have conceded only four goals in their last seven outings.
This was by no means inevitable. The first time Real Madrid tried to replace Zinedine Zidane as their manager, things went very badly indeed. Carlo Ancelotti always looked like a less risky pick as Zidane’s successor than Julen Lopetegui had been in 2018, but there was no guarantee that the Italian would immediately restore Madrid to the top of La Liga. After all, his last job was at Everton and he is arguably no longer among the elite group of coaches in world soccer.
But in Spain’s top flight at least, Madrid are proving too strong for the rest. Trophies are not handed out in December and there could be twists and turns around the corner, but as things stand it is very hard to see los Blancos being knocked off their perch.
A glance at the underlying numbers suggests Atletico Madrid are unfortunate to be 10 points behind Real Madrid at this relatively early stage of the campaign. Expected goals is a sophisticated statistic which measures the quality of chances a team creates and concedes. By that measure, Atletico have been marginally superior to Madrid. They have an expected goals difference (expected goals created minus expected goals conceded) of 9.4 to Madrid’s 8.4.
But Atletico’s title defense is being undermined by their inconsistency. The concession of a last-minute goal to Real Mallorca last weekend was just the latest example of Atletico slipping up needlessly. Even the best team in the world will drop points from time to time. But Diego Simeone’s side are doing it too often for a team that wants to win the league. Atletico could live to regret defeats by Alaves and Mallorca, and draws with Levante and Valencia.
The champions are not creating enough quality chances at present. They must become more potent in possession. Atletico are now firmly established as the third biggest club in Spain; as such, many teams adopt a reactive approach against them. This is not a new problem, but Atletico are still finding it difficult to break down low defensive blocks.
That, at least, will not be a problem against Madrid this weekend. Atletico will have less of the ball at the Bernabeu and will instead look to exploit space on the counter-attack. Simeone is a manager who relishes being the underdog, so he will not mind the fact that Madrid are the favorites in the first derby of the season.
The absence of Karim Benzema would aid Atletico’s cause, but the France international is expected to be fit after sitting out the Champions League game against Inter in midweek. For all that Vinicius Junior has taken his game to new heights this term, Benzema remains the most integral part of Ancelotti’s team.
Madrid have yet to lose a home game in the league this season. They are scoring goals for fun both on their own patch and at opposition grounds, and it will be fascinating to see whether Atletico’s stubborn backline is able to keep out the likes of Benzema, Vinicius and Rodrygo. Atletico simply must do that if they are to emerge victorious. It is hard to see the visitors triumphing if this becomes an end-to-end encounter with dozens of chances at both ends.
The pressure is off for Madrid, who have given themselves some breathing space at the summit of the standings. The chance to in effect knock Atletico out of the title race is a powerful incentive, though. Madrid can take a giant step towards the championship by winning a seventh consecutive game on Sunday. Back them to do just that and leave Atletico’s title chances hanging by a thread.
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|Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid Information|
|Teams||Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid|
|Location||Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 12 December 2021, 15.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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