We are just two days away from the biggest match of the 2014/15 Spanish season so far, as the giants of Madrid prepare to do battle at Santiago Bernabeu.
UEFA Champions League winners Real and defending La Liga champions Atletico go head-to-head for what will be the 205th meeting between the sides in all competitions.
Having lived in the shadows of their rivals, Atletico enjoyed a huge breakthrough last year in winning the domestic title on the final day. They won at Real for the first time since their return to the top-flight along the way thanks to Diego Costa’s strike, before eventually succumbing to them in the Champions League final.
They have somewhat of a psychological advantage going into this showdown, having beaten them over two legs in the Supercopa de Espana just three weeks ago.
After opening the campaign with a goalless draw at Rayo Vallecano and narrow win over newly-promoted Eibar, this is the first proper test of their credentials. It will show just how far they have come following their turnover of players in the summer, and whether they will be able to mount a serious defence of their crown this year.
It is always a tough task for them on the hallowed Bernabeu turf though, with just two league wins from their last 21 attempts and 13 in 77 overall. It was reported yesterday that they had managed to sell just 30 tickets for Saturday’s game, which is quite bizarre given that this is arguably the biggest match in Spanish football nowadays.
They also still have Diego Simeone serving out his touchline ban after his outburst in the second leg of the season’s curtain-raiser, but one good omen for them is that Real have failed to go on and win the La Liga title on five of the last six occasions when they have triumphed at the home of their rivals.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men will try to use the lack of the Atletico fans’ interest to their benefit, and will look to rekindle the late spirit of Lisbon where they saved themselves from the brink of defeat before running away with the contest in extra-time.
Another positive sign for the hosts is that Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to training, and is now in a race against time to be fit for Saturday. This could give them a major boost that is needed after their collapse against Real Sociedad last time out, where they went 2-0 up inside 11 minutes before slumping to a 4-2 battering.
If they can get one over on Diego Simeone’s side, it should really kick-start their mission of regaining the domestic crown – the one piece of silverware that eluded them by quite some way last year.
So it is the team of Galactico superstars against the team of hard-workers with never-say-die attitudes. What a game it will be!