Barcelona lost their away game (not a huge surprise given that most of the times they kill off teams in Camp Nou exclusively) to Sevilla 2-1. Neymar scored a penalty late in the game to save face for Barcelona but we all know that a consolation goal, is just that. A consolation goal.

Messi is out injured for possibly two months and that means Barcelona will drop more points. Some might say, at the end of the season most likely, that Ronaldo got ahead of Lionel Messi in terms of goals because Messi was injured.

But at a professional level of football, staying fit if part of the job. The Brazilian Ronaldo would have been the greatest player of all time hands down, if it weren’t for his injury woes.

So in all fairness, Cristiano Ronaldo should just step right up, relax and play his game on the field without much pressure since Messi is going to miss a good month or two of football.

Ronaldo stretching for the ball against Atletico Madrid

Ronaldo can work up a sizable lead over Lionel Messi in the next month or so

So, Ronaldo is under no obligation to lift his foot off the paddle till Messi recovers and he can start to take advantage of the poor Messi’s medical team by scoring against Atletico Madrid. The match against Atletico Madrid is going to be the title decider in the long run, this season as well. Last season, Real Madrid lost out the league simply because it couldn’t get results in the big games vs Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

Real Madrid can extend their lead over Atletico Madrid and over Barcelona as well (by just points of course) with an away win at Vicente Calderon.

Here is a list of things that would definitely help Real Madrid achieve that goal with relative ease.

Benitez Has To Play Players Who Have Good Ball Control

Kroos avoiding a slide tackle vs Atletico Madrid

Kroos has to enforce his authority in the midfield against Atletico Madrid

There are two truths of this world amongst a few. One, the earth is definitely round and two, Atletico Madrid is going to close you down like hell (assuming you end up playing a football match against them in the first place).
Real Madrid will not get much time on the ball to compose themselves either in the midfield or at the back. The forwards, sure as hell, would not get an inch of space to maneuver with the ball.

That means, players like Jesse and Vasquez should not start. Perhaps, against Atletico Madrid, Benitez should go one step further and not bring Jesse and Vasquez on the field at all.
Modric, Kroos and Kovacic would be the best midfield Benitez would want to put out against Atletico Madrid.
Modric and Kroos have the rare asset of close ball control under pressure which makes both of them invaluable for Real Madrid in the midfield against teams that press you hard for the whole of ninety minutes.
And if I haven’t mentioned already, Casemiro can also NOT play against Atletico Madrid. He might have the best technique in winning balls back for Real Madrid but his average ball control and rather below average passing ability will make him a liability.

Real Madrid players must not go toe to toe with Atletico Madrid

Chicharitto vs Atletico Madrid

There is only one winner in this duel.

Atletico Madrid players have more hunger and desire for the ball because of reasons that are beyond football. They aren’t multi-millionaires like some of these Real Madrid people are and that means that football is rather a way to pay the bills than live the dream.

That brings the doggedness and the determination in their midfield which Real Madrid players can only hope for in their dreams.

Real Madrid can, like Barcelona always does, outclass them with their neat sophisticated technique on the ball and their cleverness on the pitch. Real Madrid can out-think Atletico Madrid if the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco apply themselves.

Atletico Madrid player has blood on his face

Atletico Madrid, never far away from something brutal.

Atletico Madrid players always make sure that they let it all out in every match and that means, they will come hard in 50-50 challenges. Real Madrid cannot afford to play through the midfield against their bitter city rivals.

The wing play from Carvajal and Marcelo will be the key in opening up Atletico MAdrid and not get into a tussle with them in the midfield.

The only pre-game positive Real Madrid can look to is the absence of Arda Turan for Atletico Madrid. Now this guy could defend, attack and go past players without much effort.

Barcelona bought him this season and now he’s out on loan somewhere because Barcelona could not register new players this transfer season due to a ban imposed on the club by FIFA for breaking transfer rules and signing underage players from abroad.

That’s another story but Real Madrid can look forward to an Atletico Madrid that is not as lethal in the midfield as it was last season.

Real Madrid must not get hit on the counter like against Malmo

Griezmann vs Real Madrid

He’s a slithery little fellow.

Malmo didn’t have half the attacking prowess Atletico Madrid has in the form of a rejuvenated Fernando Torres and Griezmann. Both can make any side pay on the counter attack because they have good movement and a finishing ability that brings them goals.

Kroos will be a vital player in this regard. He will have to position himself appropriately to the inch in order to make sure that pass supply to Atletico Madrid forwards (or midfielders making runs on the wings) is cut off.
Modric and Kovacic, will have to track back a lot in this game in order to get men behind the ball for Real Madrid. Against Malmo, Real Madrid didn’t concede goals but did get opened up several times because the midfielders looked unconcerned and didn’t run back to help out the back four.

Chicaritto scores the winning goal vs Atletico Madrid

Real Madrid won the biggest match against Atletico Madrid. A Champions League semi final

Atletico Madrid don’t attack in the way Barcelona or Bayern Munich does. Usually, they sit back and absorb the pressure until it’s the right time to break out and catch the opposition off guard.

Marcelo and Carvajal have the tendency to push too far forward and Atletico Madrid will definitely try to exploit that in the derby game.
Benzema and whoever is playing beside him apart from Ronaldo, will have to pressurize Atletico Madrid backline and stop them from playing controlled passes to their wingers and forwards.

Real Madrid must suffocate Atletico Madrid’s main offensive threat. Set pieces.

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid

Real Madrid will have to defend as a unit

That means to senseless free kicks for Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid just cannot afford that against a side whose main source of goals is from direct and indirect free kicks.

Conversely, Real Madrid is rather average at defending from set plays. So it becomes imperative for Los Blancos to not give Atletico Madrid easy opportunities to score goals.

Casemiro’s propensity for committing futile fouls was evident against Malmo and against a side as good as Atletico Madrid (on set plays), Real Madrid can get hurt.

The best way to make Atletico Madrid toothless in this department would be play a relatively high line when Atletico Madrid have the ball.

Atletico Madrid do have some pace in attack but it isn’t something Varane and Nacho (or Pepe) cannot deal with.

Playing a high line would also coerce Atletico Madrid in playing long balls over the top of defense and that is where Varane, Carvajal and Marcelo can use their pace to get ahead of Atletico Madrid attackers and retrieve the ball  for Real Madrid.

Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid manager) will, as always, instruct his players to go down whenever possible to extract decisions from the referee and Real Madrid have to guard against that by not committing to challenges that are too risky.

If it really comes to that then Real Madrid should just, as a team, shift to the side where the ball is and allow Atletico Madrid to play a ball on the opposite wing. Once the ball is on the wing then commit a foul to give them a free kick along the bylines.

Real Madrid must also cut off Atletico’s secondary source of goals, that is, crosses from dangerous positions.

carvajal makes a clearance vs Atletico Madrid

Carvajal and Marcelo will have to moderate their attacking play with defense.

Atletico Madrid’s secondary source of scoring goals follows a similar pattern most of the times and it constitutes the following steps:

  • First Atletico Madrid tries to get a man wide, near the by line or the goal line whichever way is convenient.
  • Then they cross the ball (not necessarily at pace) to the far post.
  • An incoming attacker heads the ball back into a central position inside the penalty area for another player.
  • The cushioned header opens up space for another attacker (as defenders get caught up trying to cover the first player who receives the cross on the far post) and he heads the ball again towards an unguarded goal.

I don’t know what it is, but the sudden change in direction of the ball because of the cross and the penultimate header always catches sides, that aren’t super aware on crosses, way out of position.

A couple of seasons ago, Atletico Madrid destroyed Real Madrid 4-0(and Chelsea in the Champions League even though the scoreline wasn’t great) using the same technique to create most of their opportunities.


Atletico Madrid's manager Simeone looks concerned

Always up for a fight against Real Madrid

Benitez can buy himself a ticket to the end of the season dinner at Perez’s mansion if he can win a title this season. The first step towards that destination would be to defeat Atletico Madrid.