The La Liga table became a whole lot more compelling last weekend. Barcelona’s 2-2 draw against Valencia gave both Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid chances to close the gap. Real Madrid took full advantage, defeating Alavés 3-0. Second-place Atleti, however, suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss to Real Betis.
After those results, Barcelona (50 points) sits just six points clear of Atleti (44), while suddenly red-hot Real Madrid (42) has a chance to move into second place this weekend. All eyes will be on Los Blancos for their trip to Wanda Metropolitano to square off with their crosstown rival Saturday at 10:15 Eastern.
Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid Preview
|FanDuel Match Odds|
|Atlético Madrid +140||Draw +220
||Real Madrid +200|
The oddsmakers expect a close game. As usual, they’re probably right.
Real Madrid was going to enter this one on a tear in league play, regardless of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal first leg at Barcelona.
Following a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou (which we’ll break down at the end of this post), Real Madrid can boast of its strong recent form without anyone being able to attribute their success to “mediocre” opponents. Since a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad on Jan. 6 in league play, Santiago Solari’s men have won four La Liga matches in a row by a combined score of 11-3.
The buzz about the potency of the attack led by Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. will only grow with another strong performance against Diego Simeone’s squad. Benzema has scored three goals in the last two La Liga matches, while Vinicius followed a strong performance against Espanyol on January 27 with a goal in the win over Alavés, which earned him a spot in the starting lineup against Barça.
Álvaro Morata’s debut for the Rojiblancos did not go as planned for the former Real Madrid player or his new team. The loss to Real Betis was Atlético’s first in La Liga since September 1 and just its second of the season. Simeone and Co. are hoping Morata can combine with Antoine Griezmann to give the defensively stout club more scoring punch. Given his history with the opposition and the stage, few players in Europe will be under more scrutiny than Morata on Saturday.
The first meeting of the season between the Madrid rivals ended in a 0-0 draw back in September. That was actually one of the better results for Real Madrid during a brutal start to life without Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid controlled possession for 66% of that match and outshot Atlético, producing six shots on goal while allowing just three.
This promises to be a slugfest, and another low-scoring draw seems as likely as any outcome. It will be interesting to see how Real Madrid looks down the stretch after Wednesday’s clash with Barcelona. This will be the second of three road games in a row for Solari’s team, with Saturday’s clash sandwiched between the trip to Barcelona and next week’s Champions League Round of 16 match at Ajax.
It’s hard to pick against a team with just two losses in La Liga this year, especially one with a homefield advantage like Atlético’s, but I believe Real Madrid will pull off a victory and overtake its rival in second place.
Copa del Rey Takeaways
Barcelona and Real Madrid drew 1-1 in the first semifinal leg of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. Here are some key takeaways from the match.
Barcelona’s star started the game on the bench due to a thigh injury he suffered in the draw against Valencia. He came on for the final 30 minutes, but neither side managed to score during his time on the pitch. Wednesday was the latest example of Barcelona playing well against Real Madrid in Messi’s (partial, in this case) absence. The last two Clásicos Barcelona played without the Argentine were a 4-0 win on November 21, 2015 and the 5-1 romp earlier this season that led to a coaching change for Real Madrid. On Wednesday, it was Malcom, who started in place of Messi, who accounted for Barcelona’s lone goal.
Real Madrid Strikes Fast, Again
A quick goal from Lucas Vázquez, who found the back of the net in the sixth minute, helped subdue the packed house in the early going. It continued a positive recent trend for Real Madrid, which has scored first in five of its last six matches including La Liga and the Copa. Vázquez’s early score also marked the second time in four games that Real Madrid was on the board in less than 10 minutes after Benzema scored in the fourth minute against Espanyol on January 27.
Both teams seemed to come away from Wednesday’s match relatively pleased, apparently confident in their chances in the second leg on February 27. It’s hard to know exactly how meaningful that one will be. If Barcelona has managed to pull further away from the pack in La Liga by that time, one would expect the Copa will take on added importance for Real Madrid. The second leg of the Copa semifinal is scheduled for just a week before the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, which could also affect the managers’ lineup decisions for the match at the Santiago Bernabéu.