Despite the Champions League in mid-week, Solari refused to rotate in the derby and belief is beginning to grow as Los Blancos start to get up a head of steam.
Real Madrid are not ruling out their chances of catching and overtaking Barcelona at the top of the table. With Ajax and the Champions League looming on Wednesday, Santiago Solari refused to rotate and fielded a strong side against Atlético. "Madrid will always fight to the end; this is not over," he said after Saturday's derby. Belief is beginning to spread through the side as they start to get up a head of steam... Below are some reasons for Madridistas to be optimistic.
Not letting heads drop
Real's current situation bears little resemblance to last season, when they practically downed tools and gave up on the league title, much to the annoyance of Zinedine Zidane. At this stage of the season last year, they also trailed Barça, but by a sizeable 14 points. After the past week, however, things feels different, and all eyes in the Madrid camp will be on Barça's trip to Athletic, a potential banana skin for Valverde's side, whose lead at the top was shaved down to five points overnight. Belief will have been further enhanced by Madrid's run of form in recent weeks and the fact they have now become the closest challengers in the title race. With Solari, moreover, they have risen from ninth to second and Barcelona will now feel them breathing down their neck.
The 2-0 home defeat to Real Sociedad on 6 January was a turning point for Madrid - since then they have recorded five league wins on the bounce, scoring 14 and conceding four, with two of them coming against sides above them (Sevilla 2-0 and 1-3 in the derby) in games they won with authority. Madrid are starting to hit the right notes just at the right time.
Vinicius and Reguilón
Every revival and fightback needs its stars to shine and in Vinicius Madrid have a young and fearless up-and-coming pretender who has managed to galvanise Karim Benzema to become one of Madrid's most decisive players in attack at just 18 years of age. Reguilón should not be overlooked either; the Spanish left-back has managed to dislodge Marcelo down the left flank and brings calm to the side, which was on display as he kept his head after picking up a yellow card against Atlético and after being the most fouled player on the pitch.
Barcelona, Sánchez Pizjuán and the Bernabéu...
The fixture list may also favour a potential comeback. Barcelona have to go to the Sánchez Pizjuán in two weeks (23 February), before their visit to the Bernabéu on 2 March. "The league is a huge motivation," Sergio Ramos said yesterday after the derby. "It's time to fight for it and make things difficult for Barça," he added. The difference this year is that Madrid now believe they can take a realistic shot at LaLiga.