It’s the derby tonight at the Santiago Bernabeu as Real host cross-city rivals Atletico de Madrid. Los Colchoneros have become a thorn in Real’s side in recent years and have won the last two league visits to Charmartin. Who better to ask about the opposition that Billy Edwards from www.atleticofans.com.
So, Billy, let’s be honest. This is a battle for second place in La Liga or do you think either team has a chance of catching Barcelona at this point?
It’s a tough one. Barça’s schedule is bound to take it’s toll on them at some stage and I expect them to drop points, but then again so will the two of us. I don’t think either team can afford to take their feet off the gas given just how high the stakes are, but it would take something pretty special to catch them. That, or all three of MSN getting conveniently injured at the same time…
How can we expect Atletico to approach the game then? Strong defensively and try and nick a goal? That seems to have worked well against Real in recent seasons right?
Right. I’m expecting a good tactical battle, but we don’t really have much choice in terms of our approach. Cholo will stick to his methods until death, and coming out and looking to outplay this Madrid team at the Bernabéu would be more or less playing straight into your hands. We’re comfortable without the ball and obviously very strong in defence, so it makes sense for us to drop deeper and look for chances on the counter given the resources we have. People may not like our style but it’s tried and tested, and most of all uncomfortable for the opponent. Madrid proved in the Champions League last season that they can find a way through though, so it should be another fascinating match up.
Everyone (at Real Madrid anyway) remembers the Champions League final from two years ago and the quarter-final from last season. But Atletico are actually unbeaten in 10 of their last 11 against Real and have won the last two league games at the Bernabeu? Who are the favourites for this one?
Of course. In fact, the final in Lisbon and last year’s quarter-final are the two derbi’s that I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) of seeing live, so thankfully from an Atleti perspective I won’t be there to bring my bad luck on Saturday! As for the match, it’s hard to say as I’m still not quite sure how to judge Madrid under Zidane. He’s obviously a popular figure amongst the squad and a good attacking coach, but this will be his biggest test so far. Madrid are still favourites for me, they are the team under the most pressure, and although I doubt Zizou’s lack of managerial experience will come into play given the quality you have on the pitch, it will be interesting to see whether he goes gung-ho like in previous home games or opts for a more calculated approach.
What is it that Atletico changed in recent seasons to become such a thorn in Madrid’s side?
To put it simply, everything is down to Simeone. It’s the obvious answer, but he is without a doubt the main factor in our turnaround both in the derbi’s and in general over the last few years. Before, we would go into these matches already resigned to defeat but now they are ones we relish. The players really rise to the occasion and there is always a belief that we can win now, home or away. Even a defeat as crushing as the one in Lisbon hasn’t stopped us, as demonstrated by the 4-0 win last season. Right now, I’d say it’s probably the best derby in the world in terms of quality and competitiveness.
Just one goal in the last three games for Los Rojiblancos? Is that a concern at this point?
Most definitely. Our last goal came in the first two minutes against Getafe two weeks ago, so it’s more or less three games now without a goal. Carrasco set that one up before going off injured, and has been a real miss ever since. Although not a prolific goalscorer like Griezmann, he is our biggest threat in attack and is the one player that has constantly performed, both on the counter and against teams who drop deeper. The latter has proven our kryptonite lately, for example in the second half or against Villarreal last week. They both parked the bus and were largely untroubled, but despite applying plenty of pressure we just didn’t have the quality to cut through them. We are still creating chances on the break still, but poor finishing has cost us. Griezmann hasn’t scored in six weeks either, so is hopefully due a goal sometime soon…
Former Real midfielder Guti reckons not a single Atletico player would get into the current starting 11 at Real. I reckon you’ll have a different opinion – who would make it into the team?
Comments like that are only going to fire Atleti up even more. We may not have an abundance of big names or galacticos, but the fact is that we pride ourselves in playing as a team and working together as a unit. You have to consider just how different the styles of each team are too – how many of Madrid’s players could play in a system as rigid and disciplied as Simeone’s? Sure, you have the better players across the pitch, but that is only natural given many of them were bought for a lot more money. If Florentino were to give me the call (god forbid), I’d probably only consider Oblak, Godín and a fully fit Tiago for my first XI, but the individuals don’t necessarily make for a better team.
Looking to the future – Diego Simeone has been linked with a move to Chelsea. How important is he to the club and how big an impact would it have if he were to leave?
I don’t think I could put in to words just how important Simeone has been for the club. Not just the team, but the entity as a whole. When he came in we were at rock bottom, but he has changed everything, given us a solid identity and restored the values that the club was established upon. It doesn’t get highlighted much, but the progress we have been able to make off the pitch as a result of his sporting successes has been quite incredible too, and actually stands us in good stead for the day that he does move on. We have grown rapidly on a global scale since his arrival, reduced our debts by a significant amount, have a new stadium on the way and not to mention a team full of young, quality players. His contract runs until 2020, and although we can’t kid ourselves into thinking he’ll be here forever, I would be surprised to see him go as soon as this summer.
What work needs to be done in the summer to ensure Atletico keep pushing Real and Barcelona for honours? At a guess, a couple of new forwards given that Jackson didn’t work out and Torres’ best days are behind him?
Should the transfer ban not come into play this summer, a couple of new frontmen are a must. It’s almost sad to watch Atleti, a team famed in recent years for their star strikers, play without any focal point in attack, and is something that has to be properly addressed if we do get the chance. We got it badly wrong last year with Jackson and can’t afford to make the same mistake again, especially as we’ll probably be stuck with it for the best part of two years. A dominant central midfielder would also be a wise investment, as Gabi and Tiago are both aging, as well as a creative wide player to help take the burden off of Carrasco. We do have upcoming talent that we can look to should FIFA answer the appeal before summer, but I think if we want to compete with Barça and Real then we need to bring in players who can make the difference right from the word go.
Prediction for today’s game?
This one could go either way, but I’m going to let head rule over heart. We have not been in great form as it is, and the absence of key players as well as just three days rest from our midweek trip to Eindhoven makes it all the more difficult. I’ll say a narrow win for Real Madrid, either 1-0 or 2-1.