Simeone with one dilemma, and Zidane with another
End of an era
Unless the Copa del Rey or Champions League say otherwise, tonight's derby will be the last one in the Calderón. Memories will be surging through fans' minds, with the rivalry between the two big clubs in Madrid existing for over a century, the Calderón bearing witness to this local clash for the past fifty years. During this period the encounter has become a little tepid, and not so long ago Atlético were more like stragglers. But that pattern has now faded away. Simeone has rejuvenated this Atleti side and the city has been given back something to cherish; in point of fact, the bookies make Atlético favourites over Real, with better odds on Griezmann opening the scoring than Cristiano.
The Atlético midfield
Yet Atlético go into the game with an existential dilemma: Koke's position with respect to Gabi. To date, Atlético have settled for a couple of "destroyers", let's say. Gabi and another, with Koke usually occupying a position on either side. Simeone is currently playing a central pairing of Gabi and Koke, combining defence and attack, which means there is room for another flair player on the right or left. This provides a more fluid style of play, yet Gabi has bemoaned the lack of defensive solidity in playing that system, comments to which Simeone took exception and spoke to the midfielder, his club captain. I wonder how Simeone will set up this evening - my guess is with his recent formula.
Where it will be won and lost
Sergio Ramos returns for Madrid, Atlético's 'bete noire' given that his two cup-final goals made history for both clubs. The big doubt is Benzema, who is still being nursed back to health, which means Lucas Vázquez will come in to complete the strike force with Cristiano and Bale, an option that does have its advantages, mainly because of his pace and work rate. Modric's presence will also give real Madrid peace of mind, despite the fact he is unlikely to be at his best. The midfield battle will set the tone of the game, although it is likely to be decided in the attacking third: Cristiano, Griezmann, Bale, Gameiro, Torres... and by both goalkeepers. All the ingredients are there for a top game, worthy of the occasion, if in fact it is the swan song.
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