The first Madrid derby with VAR...
In football, like in everything else, every dog has its day. Just a short while ago, Atlético were lagging behind their city rivals to the point where some viewed today’s meeting at the Bernabéu as the chance for Madrid to leave them practically out of the race - at a distance which would almost impossible to make up after just seven weeks of competition. But Atleti have caught up and now are within just two points of Lopetegui’s team - a win tonight would put them ahead of Madrid. Long gone are the days when it was a case of “rival wanted for decent derby…” Simeone’s figures against Madrid couldn’t be more even – nine wins, nine draws and nine defeats. The most recent meeting was the European Super Cup in Tallinn, in which the Rojiblancos lifted the trophy.
Madrid's deficiencies back in focus
Madrid enjoyed a good start to the league – that was down to the team pulling together to play a more collective, passing game which seemed to scotch suspicions that the team’s level would dip now that Cristiano has gone. Maybe after reading and hearing about losing those 50 guaranteed goals a season served to spur on the squad, but the effects are now wearing off and the team is back showing signs that its old defects are still there (lack of concentration at the back, lines of the team becoming too separated, Benzema AWOL, Asensio blowing hot and cold...) and it has to be said, they lack the vigour which Cristiano gave them with his darting runs, his incessant shots on goal which distressed Madrid’s opponents no end.
Atlético now in their stride
Atleti on the other hand have been gradually introducing their recent arrivals – quality players who have been taking notes from the Simeone style guide: challenge hard for every ball, maximum concentration at all times, don’t gift the rivals anything and punish them in an instant as soon as they drop their guard. The latter is so simple for Atleti with Thomas Lemar and that sweet left foot of his. The game also brings together two players who are aspiring to win this year’s Ballon d’Or - Modric and Griezmann. It will be remembered for all of those things and others too, but perhaps most of all because it will be the first Madrid derby to feature VAR technology. We all know what most atléticos think about Real Madrid and refereeing. It will be fascinating to see whether this first derby with VAR will leave us with any kind of refereeing problem.