What is Atlético’s possible starting lineup vs Real Madrid?
Diego Simeone has some serious tinkering to do at the back when Atlético host Real Madrid on Sunday but will put out a solid midfield to counter the issue.
If one man can be credited with transforming Atlético Madrid’s fortunes against their arch-rivals, Real Madrid, it is Diego Pablo Simeone. When the Argentinean coach arrived at the old Calderón in December 2011, Atlético were far from the European force they are today and had not won a domestic title since a league and cup double in 1995-96. In terms of the Madrid derby, it had also been over a decade since Atlético had beaten Real in any competition. Simeone brought that run – which by then had extended to 14 years - to a spectacular end when he engineered a 2-1 victory in the Copa del Rey final to tick two boxes.
Since then, Simeone has overseen 36 matches against Real Madrid, winning 10, drawing 11 and losing 15, a more than decent record given that in 25 games before he returned to Atlético as manager the club had not won a single derby fixture. The most recent of those victories was the second derby of last season, which took his Liga tally to five wins in 21 – a slightly less impressive return and evidence of the tendency of his side to turn it on in cup competitions against their cross-town rivals. In recent seasons, Atlético have regressed in the league, and while not nearly to the extent of the 14-year curse, Simeone has masterminded just two victories against Madrid since the 2015-16 campaign.
Simeone’s issues at the back
Atlético are currently seventh in the league table despite thumping Celta Vigo last weekend, testament to the recent troubles afflicting Simeone’s previously vaunted defence. The days of Atlético emulating the Arsenal side of Tony Adams and eking out 1-0 wins are long gone and even the brick wall of Jan Oblak has been showing uncharacteristic cracks. The Slovenia international missed the games against Celta and Leverkusen and although he is in with a chance of making the fixture on Sunday, Ivo Grbic is again ready to deputize.
Simeone is also missing half of his defence: José María Giménez and Stefan Savic – Atlético’s first-choice central defensive partnership - are both out for the Madrid game and Sergio Reguilón has yet to feature having arrived on loan from Tottenham. This poses a headache for the Argentinean, who could look to Mario Hermoso and Felipe, who has only played 90 minutes once this season, to form the middle of a back four, or switch to a 3-5-2 with wing backs.
In that case, Hermoso - another player who has not featured regularly this season - may start on the left with Alex Witsel drafted into a back three and Reinildo on the other side. That would allow Simeone to flood the midfield with Saúl on the left and full back Nahuel Molina on the right, where Ángel Correa provides another option. Koke, Rodrigo de Paul and Marcos Llorente would form a central three behind João Félix and Álvaro Morata, upon whom Atlético’s attacking duties will be squarely shouldered.
The Griezmann clause
The case of Antoine Griezmann has not been exactly helping Atlético’s cause this season, but Simeone has given his blessing to it to save the club a small fortune. Due to a clause in the loan agreement with Barcelona, the Frenchman’s parent club, the forward is restricted to playing half an hour or so every week so as not to trigger an automatic €40 million payment for his services. Still, as impact subs go, Simeone could do plenty worse and Griezmann will be unleashed in the second half as has become the norm.
Atlético predicted XI against Real Madrid
Grbic; Reinildo, Witsel, Hermoso; Saúl, De Paul, Llorente, Koke, Molina; João Félix, Morata.