A mere five miles, as the crow flies, is all that separates the homes of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, and on Sunday, the latter will be making that short journey across Spain’s capital for one of the most highly anticipated contests between the two outfits in recent LaLiga memory.
A victory for the hosts could well hand Barcelona, who face Leganes on Saturday evening, the title, and could even result in Los Blancos having to form a guard of honour for their Catalonian rivals when the two sides meet next month.
However, a win for Atletico all but secures a second-place finish; meaning unless Los Vikingos can clinch the Champions League for the third successive year, this season will go down as one of the club’s worst under Florentino Perez.
So, ahead of this weekend’s crucial showdown for both sides, let’s take a look at four on-field battles that could make all the difference…
1. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Diego Godin
Not only will Diego Godin have to deal with the ruthless Santiago Bernabeu Stadium crowd this weekend, but the veteran will also have to contend with Europe’s most in-form talisman Cristiano Ronaldo while doing so.
Since the turn of the year, the 33-year-old has netted 24 goals across all competitions for club and country, with the Portugal international’s early opener against Juventus, which preluded his stunning bicycle kick, making him the first ever player to score in 10 consecutive Champions League outings.
The ever-present Godin, however, has featured regularly for a side who currently possess the league’s best defensive record, meaning, as was the case in November, Ronaldo may have met his match.
2. Mateo Kovacic vs Saul Niguez
In the middle of the park, Mateo Kovacic is expected to record a somewhat rare start for Real Madrid after Zinedine Zidane hinted he will rest some of those who starred in Turin in midweek.
The 23-year-old, however, will be hoping he can provide a performance more fitting to his skill level than his last outing against one of Spain’s top three, where his defensive play gifted Barcelona a number of opportunities on goal.
And although this time around he will not be tasked with marking the likes of Lionel Messi, Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez is indeed no slouch and will be looking to take advantage of any of the Croatia international’s weaknesses on Sunday.
3. Jesus Vallejo vs Diego Costa
Following Raphael Varane’s slow return to training after picking up a knock in Italy on Tuesday, Jesus Vallejo is in line to make his first appearance in a Madrid derby.
When called upon so far the 21-year-old has looked assured but will be facing a different level of test in Diego Costa this weekend.
Although the Brazilian is somewhat out of sorts in front of goal, particularly compared to his form following his return to Atleti in January, the talisman will be looking to use any naivety Vallejo shows on Sunday to his advantage.
4. Theo Hernandez vs Lucas Hernandez
Although a meeting between Theo Hernandez and Lucas Hernandez is virtually impossible on a football pitch aside from set pieces of if one is wildly out of position, a brother vs brother showdown is always an exciting battle, and even more so in a derby.
The two are yet to clash in this fixture, with Theo not selected for the reverse match in November following his 30m euros move across the city in the summer, but the extra spice and motivation a family feud can catalyse could be something Zidane aims to utilise this weekend.