Who: Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid
When: Saturday, September 28th @ 03:00pm ET
Line: Atletico Madrid +140 | Draw +225 | Real Madrid +200
With all due respect to last week’s Real Madrid-Sevilla showdown, matchday 7 in La Liga gives us our first truly marquee matchup of the season. Real Madrid (+200), fresh off two reassuring wins to put the UCL-opening disaster vs. PSG in the rearview mirror, travels to Wanda Metropolitano to take on rival Atlético Madrid (+130) on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
That is the clear headliner of this week’s slate, but if you thought we weren’t going to talk about Barcelona and how they’ll look without Lionel Messi at Getafe on Saturday at 10 a.m., lo siento.
Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid: Crosstown rivals trending (mostly) in opposite directions
But back to Zinedine Zidane vs. Diego Simeone.
After El Clásico, this is the biggest rivalry in Spain, and one of the best in Europe. When these two teams meet, it’s must-see TV, regardless of where they are in the standings. Under these circumstances (RM alone in first place with 14 points, and ATM just one point behind them), this is easily the best match of the week in not only Spain, but across Europe – sorry, Manchester United vs Arsenal, although that one should be interesting, too.
Just a week ago, it seemed hard to imagine Atleti needing a win worse than RM here. Atleti stormed out of the gates this year, with nine points from its first three games. Meanwhile, Real Madrid entered last weekend coming off a brutal showing in Paris in the Champions League.
Los Rojiblancos have struggled in three of their last four matches, losing 2-0 to Real Sociedad on September 14, drawing Juve (2-2) on September 18 and drawing Celta Vigo (0-0) last weekend before beating Mallorca 2-0 on Wednesday.
After the embarrassing 3-0 loss to PSG last week, RM responded with a 1-0 win at Sevilla in what was quietly the most impressive domestic result by Barcelona, RM or Atleti through six games. Los Blancos then handled Osasuna at home on Wednesday.
Zinedine Zidane rested a number of key players in that matchup, including Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema. They’ll be the fresher team, as Atleti largely stuck to its best XI vs. Mallorca. Let’s also note here that Real Madrid was dominant in a match in which both goals came from Brazilian teenagers (Vinicius in the 36th and Rodrygo in the 72nd).
Real Madrid is in a bad way at left-back, though, without either Marcelo or Ferland Mendy. The good news for RM last weekend was that they shut out Sevilla for their first clean sheet of the season. The bad news was that Mendy got hurt. With the young Frenchman and Marcelo out, Zidane started Nacho vs. Osasuna.
The question is whether João Félix and Diego Costa — who both scored on Wednesday — can take advantage of the injuries to Marcelo and Mendy against an opponent that has recorded back-to-back shutouts. Álvaro Morata would be another quality option, but he got himself sent off late against Mallorca and will not be available on Saturday.
Along with Félix, it will be fascinating to see how RM Eden Hazard looks in his first taste of the Madrid derby. Hazard is yet to make a splash for his new team. Madridistas could hardly dream up a better scenario than a trip to Wanda Metropolitano for the Belgian’s first big performance under Zidane.
Barcelona (once again) without Messi
Now, let’s talk about the most scrutinized lower body on the continent, in case Lionel Messi’s health hasn’t been enough of a topic so far this year. Tuesday against Villarreal was his first start of the season, and it didn’t take the Argentine long to have an impact. His corner, and Antoine Griezmann’s finish, for his team’s opener in the 6th, offered a glimpse at what should concern supporters of any team other than Barcelona.
But unfortunately for the Catalans, the postgame discussion was another round of questions: “How seriously is Messi hurt?” and “What will Ernesto Valverde’s team look like without him?”
While Valverde said that Messi didn’t play the second half for precautionary reasons after what the manager claimed was a tweak of his groin near the 30-minute mark, we’ll see about that this weekend when Barcelona (-125) heads to Getafe (+350). At this point, it would be a shock if Messi suits up, especially with a Champions League match against Inter Milan next Wednesday.
In addition to the concerns about Messi, Barcelona also is facing several other major questions.
To name a few:
- When will Valverde figure out the best line-up for this roster?
- What is going on with the defense, which has allowed the second-most goals (10) in the league after six matches?
- Is Luis Suárez healthy and sharp enough to play up to his potential?
- He has caused more problems for his own fans (he was booed/whistled at Camp Nou when he came off late in the Villarreal win) than the opponents since his two-goals-in-30-minutes outburst vs. Valencia on September 14. Suárez’s WhoScored rating in his last three games: 7.01 vs. Borussia Dortmund on Sept. 17, 5.91 vs. Granada last weekend and, most recently, 6.65 vs. Villarreal. Last year in domestic play, when he finished tied for second in the league with 21 goals, the analytics site rated him a 7.57.
Elsewhere in Spain
Athletic Bilbao has now drawn relegation candidates Mallorca (Sept. 13) and Leganés (Wednesday) in two of its last three games, but remains just two points out of first place. Can Athletic (+125) bounce back at home vs. Valencia (+230)?