Madrid: Accustomed to unrelenting success in recent seasons, both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid enter Saturday’s first ever Spanish capital derby at Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano stadium with little room for error.
Early season struggles have left both sides eight points adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona and four points back on a revitalised Valencia.
Twice finalists in the past four seasons, Atletico also look set for an embarassing group-stage exit in the Champions League, whilst Real also suffered thier first group-stage defeat for five years to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, although they should still progress to the last 16.
A large part in the downfall of both sides of the Madrid divide has been the poor form of their normally reliant source of goals in Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann.
The two went head-to-head for the Ballon d’Or last year after Real and Ronaldo’s Portugal edged out Atletico and Griezmann’s France in the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals respectively.
However, Ronaldo has scored just once in seven La Liga appearances so far this season despite having 48 shots on goal.
“It’s not my fault if (the ball) does not want to go in,” Ronaldo told French sports newspaper L’Equipe on Thursday.
“People look at me like a goal machine, like a guy who has to score all the time.”
However, Ronaldo’s restlessness on the field has been mirrored by rising tension off it with more Madrid-based sports daily Marca reporting on his fractuous relationship with Real captain Sergio Ramos this week.
After the 3-1 defeat at Wembley to Spurs, Ronaldo admitted Madrid’s squad that delivered a first La Liga and Champions League double for 59 years last season had been weakened by the departures of Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez among others. Ramos later described those comments as “opportunisitic”.
Griezmann’s commitment has also been questioned despite the Frenchman turning his back on a move away from Spain to sign a new deal with Atletico just five months ago.
“Whoever doesn’t want to be here should leave,” Atletico midfielder Koke said on Thursday.
Koke’s return after a month out through injury should at least inject some creativity back into an Atletico side badly lacking a spark.
Griemzann hasn’t scored in his last seven Atletico games and was even substituted by Diego Simeone before Thomas Partey’s injury-time strike ground out a 1-0 win at Deportivo la Coruna two weeks ago.
“Compared to previous years it is different,” admitted Griezmann.
“We have a new stadium, we are struggling to score goals and win games. At the back we are fine, we just need a bit of luck up front.”
Atletico’s slow adaptation to the 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano has played its part in their struggles as Simeone’s men have failed to win any of their last four games at home in all competitions.
As well as Koke’s return, Yannick Carrasco is fit again for Atletico.
Real, by contrast, are still riddled with injuries with Gareth Bale ruled out for another month and doubts over Isco, Dani Carvajal, Keylor Navas and Mateo Kovacic.
Barcelona are also in action in Madrid on Saturday and can open up a seven-point lead at the top when they travel to Leganes.
Valencia will look to maintain the chase and continue a club record run of seven straight La Liga wins ahead of their top of the table clash with Barca next weekend when they travel to Espanyol on Sunday.-AFP