Atléti Hope Rare Rest Can Help Defeat Real

A week off for Atletico Madrid is like a week in the sun for anyone else, and with Real's confidence sky-high, this weekend's Madrid derby is shaping up to be a belter...

Last Updated: 28/02/14 at 14:43 Post Comment

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For a team that achieves sporting success by running a great deal whilst putting in immensely dirty tackles every 86 seconds, the week of rest just enjoyed by an industrious Atlético Madrid will feel like a month lolling about on a beach in the Bahamas to any other side.

The Rojiblancos have had an exhausting start to 2014 having played 15 matches in two months, and the sequence of results from those encounters show just how much toll the effort has taken on the squad. A perky Atléti went unbeaten in the first nine encounters of the year, a run that saw Diego Simeone's side easing its way towards the top of the table in La Liga and progressing to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.

However, that first match in the near final stages of the cup against Real Madrid produced a defeat in the Santiago Bernabéu and began a sequence of four losses in the side's past six encounters. The most recent of those setbacks was a 3-0 loss last weekend at the hands, elbows and feet of Osasuna, a middling side from the north of Spain that caught a tired Atlético completely cold.

That result, combined with Barcelona also losing, left Real Madrid alone at the top of the table. The weekend to come is now a defining one for Atlético in terms of the title race, with the two clubs meeting in the Vicente Calderón on Saturday. A victory for the home team would see last week's slip-up cancelled out and the Atlético juggernaut back on track. A defeat and the six point difference between to two capital city clubs could be too big to close.

Although Atlético Madrid may have tired legs, the energetic narrative from the club remains as spikey as ever. "We are a competitive team that has no fear," was the battle-cry from the side's Argentinean boss, who is looking to repeat the results of the last time they met in La Liga this season and May's Copa del Rey final, two victories that changed Atleti's existence.

Set to lead the line once again and looking to rattle Pepe and Sergio Ramos is Diego Costa, who promised this week on the battle to come with his new Spanish colleague that "if I have to hit him, I'll hit him. If he has to hit me, then he will hit me." Both are likely to happen, which is very good indeed and should be especially fun to see, considering Diego Costa's call up to the Spanish squad for next week's friendly against Italy.

Atlético's best hope for taking something from the game - even a point would be just fine - is for the players to hope that the same post Champions League slump that hit themselves and Barca last week, strikes Real. However, that looks unlikely to happen. The feeling during the 6-1 thrashing of Schalke 04 was that the Spanish side could happily have played all night if necessary and then a game the next morning. That's not too surprising considering an itchy Cristiano Ronaldo had just finished a three match ban in La Liga and Gareth Bale is only just starting to deliver consistently and prove his immense worth to a previously skeptical Madridista massive.

The result quite naturally saw confidence somewhat sky high in one side of the Spanish capital. Although Schalke were not European heavyweights, they were still a German side, therefore a huge bogeyman for Madrid in their European football history.

Sunday's game will be more of a challenge though, with the Atlético players drawing on previous wins in La Liga and the Copa del Rey as fuel. However, both those matches were won in the Santiago Bernabéu. What the Rojiblancos desperately want to do now is defeat their accursed rivals at home. If Atlético can achieve that then the title race is back on.

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter

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