Atletico Madrid hosts neighbors Real Madrid on Sunday in arguably the most crucial game in La Liga this season. This game could decide the destiny of this season’s title.
Real Madrid travels to the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium five points behind league leaders Atletico, who also have played a game less. A win for Atletico would take them eight clear of Madrid, and with their game-in-hand to be played against Athletic Club Bilbao next Wednesday, two wins would stretch that lead to 11 points with just 12 games to play.
However, if Real Madrid wins on Sunday, that lead would be cut to just two points and leave everything to play for, and with three wins and seven draws from their last 10 derbies, Real Madrid will be confident of taking at least a point from the Wanda.
Kieran Trippier is likely to go straight back into the Atletico side after completing a 10-week FIFA ban, and he will give balance to a back line that has struggled without him, while Yannick Carrasco is available again after injury.
Luis Suarez will lead the Atletico attack, although the Uruguayan has gone five games without a goal, and Atletico coach Diego Simeone could play former Real Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente just behind him, rather than Joao Tomas, who has drifted in and out of favor with the coach in recent weeks.
With Dani Carvajal, Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos, and Mariano Diaz all ruled out, the big question at Real Madrid is whether top-scorer Karim Benzema will start on Sunday after returning to full training on Friday.
Benzema’s importance to Real Madrid cannot be underestimated and goes well beyond his 12 league goals with his intelligent movement and link-up play. However, given that Real Madrid’s second-highest scorer this season is midfielder Casemiro, only scoring five, Vinicius Jr is next with three, that importance is made all too clear.
With FC Barcelona, who are level on points with Real Madrid, playing away to Osasuna on Saturday, a win for Ronald Koeman’s side would be another factor for the derby and pile the pressure on both sides in a title race that could be almost over by Sunday night…or just starting to get very interesting indeed.