Which Atletico Madrid is going to show up tonight for Spain's capital derby at neighbours Real Madrid?
Atletico's Jekyll and Hyde XI
Which Atletico Madrid is going to show up tonight for Spain's capital derby at neighbours Real Madrid? Will it be the Atletico side who inflicted Barcelona's only league defeat of the season so far by playing an incisive pressing game and making the most of brilliant attackers such as Diego Forlan, Simao, Jose Antonio Reyes and Sergio Aguero?
They hammered Valencia 4-1 in their next home game last month and have moved up the Primera Liga to a season high of eighth. Atletico have reached the Copa del Rey final and are in the quarter finals of the Europa League after a recent away-goals victory over Sporting Lisbon. The only Spanish team still in three competitions, their campaign could turn out one of biggest surprises of all. Or will it be the Atletico who won just one of their first 11 league games and laboured in 18th place by November?
The side who worked through another two coaches last year and have won just two away games in the league this term? They were humbled 4-1 by home win specialists Mallorca in their last outing. Iker Casillas, the Real goalkee-per, was not being unreasonable yesterday when he opined: "Atletico are unpredictable. They are capable of playing the best football around. "They've pulled through in their decisive games this season. The three points at stake are vital to us to continue aspiring to win the league."
Even Diego Forlan, Atletico's top scorer every season since he signed from Villarreal three years ago, admitted: "Real Madrid are stronger in defence than us. "Their defenders are playing at a very high level despite the injury of Pepe [the Portuguese centre-back." November's derby between the two giants - the first and third best supported teams in Spain - was a classic, with Real charging into a 3-0 lead, before Atletico ensured a dramatic end to the game with two quick goals with 10 minutes remaining.
While Atletico do very well against Barcelona at home, they usually lose home and away to the giants from the north of the city. Real's peerless home form should also be considered. Manuel Pellegrini's side have won all 14 league matches at the Bernabeu so far. Chasing an 11th straight league win, Real have amassed a club record 71 points after 28 games. "Our numbers are truly impressive," said Casillas. "I have won a league title with 78 points. We only have seven less than that right now with 10 more games to go. Our numbers are similar to Barcelona's. The team who avoid mistakes will win the title."
It has not been a flawless week for Real, however. Casillas was contrite after his outburst during Thursday night's 4-2 win over Getafe which kept Real and Barca on equal points at the top of the league. The pair meet at the Bernabeu in two weeks in what will be the most eagerly anticipated clasico in years. Casillas had been outraged after Getafe's Daniel Parejo robbed him of the ball and scored in an empty net. The Spain goalkeeper charged out to remonstrate with the referee, who correctly waved away his pleas.
Later, in the cold spring light of the Madrid day, Casillas said: "When you dedicate yourself to this sport there are some heated moments and yesterday was one of them. I have nothing to complain about with regard to Parejo. "He did what he had to do and he wasn't at fault at all." Tonight, Real are likely to be without Kaka, the Brazilian playmaker, and Karim Benzema, the French striker, with both expected to be fit next week after injuries.
The pair are both sidelined with groin injuries. "They are two important players for us and their quality is unquestionable," said Pellegrini. Real still have the strength in depth to beat anyone. Atletico? Who knows? firstname.lastname@example.org Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid, 11pm, Aljazeera Sport +2 & +3