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Real Madrd has historically dominated a rivalry spanning 115 years, with 89 wins to Atleti’s 39 in LaLiga but this time Zinedine Zidane’s side heads to the Wanda Metropolitano with a daunting task at hand.
Atleti sits top of the league, five points clear of third-placed Real Madrid with a game in hand. Los Blancos need a result to keep their hopes of a title defence alive.
Here are the five key match-ups where this one will be won and lost.
1) Diego Simeone v Zinedine Zidane
The first and perhaps most decisive battle will be won off the pitch, between Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and his Atletico Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone.
Zizou has the edge over Simeone in the derby, winning their only encounter as players – a 2-0 win in 2003, and guiding Los Blancos to six wins and four draws in 13 encounters.
It won’t be easy for Zidane this time around, with Real Madrid in the midst of an injury crisis with Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard missing, while inspirational striker Karim Benzema is racing to recover from a troublesome groin in time for the clash.
Simeone meanwhile, has to reinstate confidence after a run of two wins in the last five league games, prompting fears have been stifled by the weight of expectation.
2) Luis Suarez v Karim Benzema
These two veterans continue to defy father time, as the star strikers for their respective sides well into their 30’s.
Suarez left Barcelona last season after being told he he couldn’t continue at the highest level last season, which proved to be an embarrassing gaffe.
Since joining Atletico Madrid this season, the 33 year-old has boasts 16 goals in 21 LaLiga appearances - second only to his former Barca strike partner Lionel Messi.
At the heart of Real Madrid’s attack will be Karim Benzema, who like Suarez continues to silence critics.
Real Madrid’s ‘mr reliable’ plotted quietly behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s sizeable shadow until 2018, when Ronaldo joined Juventus and Benzema stepped in as the attacking focal point.
Expect derby bragging rights to be decided by the form of these superstar strikers.
3) Koke v Casemiro
The tempo of the Madrid derby will be dictated by midfield metronomes Casemiro and Koke, who anchor Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid’s middles respectively.
Koke has been key in the most successful era in Atleti’s history, and remains one of the first names on Diego Simeone’s team sheet. But don’t expect the 29 year-old to score with the winner against Real Madrid, with one goal in 23 games this season.
Atleti’s high octane attack ends with Luis Suarez and Marcos Llorente, but it all starts with Koke, who effortlessly turns defence into attack with precise distribution – completing 88% of passes in 21 starts this season.
Standing across from him in midfield will be Casimero, a gem plucked from the reserve team by Zidane when he took over the senior side in 2016.
Unfazed by the big names in the Real Madrid dressing room, the Brazlian quickly cemented himself as a regular starter, forming a midfield trio with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos which inspired Madrid to three consecutive UEFA Champions League titles from 2016-2018.
4) Joao Felix v Vinicius Jr
Joao Felix has struggled with the crippling expectation attached to his $A195 million move to Atleti as a teenager less than two years ago.
Despite bouts of inconsistency, Felix continues to tease fans with glimpses of his undeniable potential, winning LaLiga’s player of the month in November and more recently, scoring a sublime winner against Villarreal last week.
There are rumblings that the 21 yearold might be benched for the derby, but if he does start, there’s no better stage for the prodigy to show the world what we know he’s capable of.
Having signed for Real Madrid for $A71 million as a 17 year, Vinicius has also traversed the pitfalls of a youngster carrying a hefty price tag.
Three seasons in, and the versatile Brazilian has bedded into the Real Madrid dressing room as a regular starter under Zidane.
Expect the 20 year-old to stretch Atleti’s backline with his explosive pace and surging runs in behind.
5) Marcos Llorente v Toni Kroos
The assist kings of their respective sides, the final score of this derby will be heavily dictated by the form of Marcos Llorente and Toni Kroos.
A frosty welcome awaits Llorente, who progressed through Real Madrid’s youth academy before joining Atleti after struggling for regular playing time.
The 26 year-old has been a wonder at the Wanda, combining goals, assists and the unrelenting work rate Simeone demands of his midfielders.
The Spaniard sits joint top of the league in assists and is on track to become the first Atleti player to record double digits in goals and assists in a season since Opta stats were first collected in 2008.
Real Madrid’s creator in midfield is no slouch either. By 31, Toni Kroos has won just about every major trophy a budding footballer can dream of and he’s not slowing down, leading the away with six assists for his side this season.
No doubt Zidane and Simeone will be looking for ways to get these two as ball as possible come Monday.