Madrid derby with Atletico and Real's title hopes in the balance

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-08 19:47:13|Editor: Lu Hui
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MADRID, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Saturday sees the Madrid derby as Atletico Madrid entertain Real Madrid in a game that is crucial for both sides' La Liga title ambitions.

Atletico's 1-0 defeat to Real Betis last weekend saw them drop to six points behind league leaders Barcelona, allowing their neighbors to move to within two points of them after Real Madrid won 3-0 at home to Alaves.

Both teams need a win to maintain their title hopes, and with Barca facing a tough game away to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, three points could put either of the two right back in the frame for the title.

However, if Barca come out on top in Bilbao, anything other than a win would be a disaster for both Atletico and Real.

Atletico have had all week to prepare, while Real cross town after their Copa del Rey semifinal first leg away to Barcelona. That game ended in a creditable 1-1 draw for Madrid, but it could also have taken its toll on the players' legs.

The good news for coach Santiago Solari is that he can welcome Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal back into the fold after they were suspended for the Alaves game, although he loses Marcos Llorente to a groin strain.

The club also has an ongoing problem with Isco, who took to social media during the week to comment that he didn't "get the same opportunities" as his team-mates, but the midfielder is unlikely to start if Solari continues with an attack comprising the in-form Karim Benzema, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Jr., which would also mean Gareth Bale starting on the subs' bench.

Atletico will know that having more preparation time than their rivals is no guarantee of success after their defeat to Betis last week, but coach Diego Simeone will be hoping that a packed Wanda Metropolitano stadium will also play its part.

The coach will have to decide whether to play an extra man in midfield or to give a home debut to former Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata.

Morata joined on loan from Chelsea in January and has been at pains to stress that despite his years with Real Madrid, his heart is firmly with Atletico, and there is no better way to prove that than with a goal.

Atletico will have Saul Niguez and Diego Godin available for the game, but there are still doubts over creative midfielder Koke, whose delivery from set pieces could be vital in what is likely to be a close and tense encounter.