Last season’s LaLiga Santander champions Atlético de Madrid have endured a difficult season, watching their neighbours and rivals Real Madrid take their crown last weekend, and will be looking to offer an instant retort on Sunday at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The Madrid Derby is a chance for Carlo Ancelotti’s side to inflict more pain on Atlético, who are still battling to finish in the top four and qualify for Champions League football next season.
After sensationally winning the league in 2020/21, Atlético have endured something of an identity crisis this year, losing some of their renowned defensive solidity amid a shift to a more attacking style. For Real Madrid the chance to head across town to face their rivals as champions is something to be proud of, and they will also be looking to do the double over Atlético, having triumphed 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu in December.
The division’s top goalscorer, Karim Benzema sent Real Madrid ahead that night, with Marco Asensio adding a second after the break. At the other end Thibaut Courtois made six saves, including a brilliant stop from Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick, to help Los Blancos keep a clean sheet. The Belgian will be hoping to do the same again on Sunday, as he enjoys perhaps the finest season of his career.
The victory was a sign that Real Madrid were the force to reckon with this season, as it was their 10th consecutive victory and it sent them 13 points clear of Atlético at the time. And so it proved, with Ancelotti’s side losing just twice in 2022 in the top flight to romp to the title.
Striker Benzema has been key in that run, with 26 LaLiga Santander goals positioning him as the division’s runaway lead goalscorer and near-certain Pichichi trophy winner. It is his career best tally for a league season and one he will want to keep nourishing in Real Madrid’s remaining matches, to bolster his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or. The French forward came off the bench against RCD Espanyol on Saturday and netted Real Madrid’s fourth as they romped to victory to clinch the title, showing his hunger for goals remains intact, even with the job done.
“I’m enjoying every day at Real Madrid, it’s been lucky to come back, we have done well this season when nobody expected it,” said a joyful Ancelotti. “I want to stay for a while and for that it’s very simple. What you have to do is win.”
While for the Italian the Madrid Derby is a chance to twist the knife, Atlético Madrid are still looking to secure a vital victory. They struggled at the San Mamés last weekend in a 2-0 defeat by Athletic Club, which keeps Copa del Rey winners Real Betis and even Real Sociedad in with a chance of snatching fourth place.
“We have to know how to handle complicated times, which have been few in these last 10 and a half years, and we will see who is there,” said Atleti coach Simeone, hoping to coax decisive performances from his squad in the key games remaining this season, starting on Sunday.