Diego Simeone’s side nearly got their Champions League campaign off to a perfect start before Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel headed home the 95th-minute equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw for the Italians.
A late heartbreak at the Stadio Olimpico was the last thing Atletico needed ahead of this mouth-watering fixture, as it further dampened their morale following a disastrous 3-0 loss at Valencia last time out.
Los Rojiblancos’ disheartening performance at the Estadio de Mestalla, described by Simeone as the ‘weakest’ of his long-term mandate in the dugout, came after Atletico walloped Rayo Vallecano 7-0.
With high-flying Madrid coming to the Metropolitano, the hosts must shake off the recent disappointments if they’re to post only their second home league win over Carlo Ancelotti’s men in nine attempts (D3, L4).
Despite boasting a significantly superior record in the overall H2H stakes (W115, D60, L57), last season’s La Liga runners-up cannot take anything for granted amid a growing injury crisis at the Santiago Bernabeu.
After losing Vinicius Junior to a thigh problem in late August, Ancelotti suffered a double injury blow ahead of this blockbuster, with Dani Carvajal and Jude Bellingham at risk of missing out on Sunday’s game.
Although the Italian manager won’t lose much sleep over the right-back’s potential absence, replacing the England international could prove a mammoth task after the midfielder’s instant impact in Madrid.
Bellingham’s last-gasp strike fired Los Merengues to a well-deserved 1-0 home victory over Union Berlin in midweek Champions League action, taking the 20-year-old’s tally in the white shirt to six goals.
Atletico’s only home outing in the 2023/24 La Liga campaign yielded a comfortable 3-1 win over newly-promoted Granada, extending their outstanding winning league run at the Metropolitano to ten.
Simeone’s reputation as a defensive-minded strategist precedes him, yet with six of his side’s last nine home league triumphs seeing them score 3+ goals, his ‘park the bus’ tag is no longer valid.
Los Rojiblancos fans will hope Atletico’s new-found prolificacy could flip the script that has seen Simeone’s team net one goal or fewer across their last eight home league meetings with Real.
Former Los Blancos striker Alvaro Morata could be the hosts’ best chance of defying their underwhelming scoring record against cross-city rivals after tallying three goals in his last four La Liga appearances.
Los Merengues are indebted to Bellingham for kicking things off in the new campaign with all five league triumphs, with the Englishman scoring six times – more than the rest of his teammates combined (five).
Their overdependence on the Englishman highlights the significance of his potential absence, and it’s worth noting his goals beyond the 80th minute have won them three of their last four competitive matches.
Ancelotti’s team didn’t need him to beat Atletico in their backyard last season, with first-half strikes from Rodrygo and Federico Valverde inspiring them to a 2-1 victory in September 2022.
Having gone from three straight La Liga away losses to four consecutive wins, the visitors may feel confident about inflicting another defeat on Atletico regardless of Bellingham’s fitness status.
Simeone faces a sizeable selection headache ahead of this fixture, with Reinildo Mandava, Caglar Soyuncu, Thomas Lemar and Rodrigo De Paul struggling with injuries.
However, the impending returns of Memphis Depay, Koke and Axel Witsel should soften the blow.
In addition to Bellingham, Carvajal and Vinicius, the visitors will be without Thibaut Courtois, Arda Guler and Eder Militao.
Atletico Madrid potential starting line-up:
(3-5-2): Jan Oblak; Axel Witsel, Mario Hermoso, Stefan Savic; Naheul Molina, Koke, Saul Niguez, Marcos Llorente, Samuel Lino; Alvaro Morata, Antoine Griezmann.
Real Madrid potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Fran Garcia, David Alaba, Antonio Rudiger, Lucas Vasquez; Aurelien Tchouameni, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos; Federico Valverde, Rodrygo, Joselu.
We Say: Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real Madrid
Every tradition needs to come to an end sooner or later, and this could be the end of the road for Madrid’s flawless start to 2023/24.
The visitors’ best chance of avoiding that scenario is for Bellingham to recover, but the clock is ticking.
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