Sports, Football

High-intensity derby clash with Atletico facing Real tomorrow


By AFP
Published : 22 Sep 2023 08:39 PM

As if putting in their “weakest performance” in Diego Simeone’s reign last weekend wasn’t enough -- to use the coach’s own words -- Atletico Madrid were also sucker-punched in the Champions League ahead of the Madrid derby on Sunday.

Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel scored a 95th-minute equaliser to deny Atletico an impressive win in Rome on Tuesday which would have gone some way to raising the team’s morale.

The visit of Real Madrid to the Metropolitano on Sunday catches Atletico at a low ebb, but it is the type of high-intensity clash which could cure the ills of the past week for Simeone and his team, kickstarting their campaign.

The fiery Argentine coach was aghast at the way Valencia strolled to a 3-0 win over his side last weekend in La Liga, leaving the Rojiblancos seventh.

Their bitter rivals are top of the league with five wins from five, maintaining a 100 percent record across all competitions this season after Jude Bellingham snatched them victory against Union Berlin on Wednesday in Europe.

However Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann was happy with the team's display in the Champions League, despite the late set-back.

"We played a great match, but we still have good feelings, and can leave with our heads held high," said the French forward.

"This is the image we want to portray -- everyone attacking, defending and  forgetting Valencia. We have the level to achieve something big."

Taking even a point from the match against Real Madrid would be something to celebrate.

Carlo Ancelotti's side have not flowed in attack but are extremely durable and showed their typical never-say-die mindset in midweek.

England international Bellingham has instantly become the team's leading figure, after Karim Benzema's departure to Saudi Arabian football, and has six goals in six games.

Atletico welcome Koke and Memphis Depay back after injury but still have various problems, with Pablo Barrios joining Thomas Lemar and ReinildoMandava on the sidelines, while Rodrigo de Paul and CaglarSoyuncu are doubts.

Real Madrid are hopeful Dani Carvajal will return after a minor leg problem, with Lucas Vazquez ready to play in his stead if not.

Champions Barcelona, second, will look to move top of the league before the Madrid derby when they host Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Xavi Hernandez's side have played brilliantly in their last two matches, scoring a total of 10 goals against Real Betis and Royal Antwerp.

The coach said they are playing better now than at any previous time since he took over in November 2021.

"We know inside the camp, that it's a question of consistency, of continuing with the same humility," said Xavi.

"It's about continuing in this way, not relaxing, we're in the best moment since I've been coach and we have to continue on this road."

Player to watch: Joao Felix

Barcelona's new arrival from Atletico Madrid on loan has scored three goals in his last two matches, quickly finding his footing in the Catalan capital. The Portuguese forward has also delighted fans with his technical quality and can continue his good form against visitors Celta Vigo.