Holders Real Madrid face local rivals and nemesis Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals first leg.
The Colchoneros will look to seek revenge for last season’s Champions League final defeat. Diego Simeone’s side have had a upper hand over their local rivals of late, undefeated since the aforementioned final heartbreak.
Atletico Madrid have been boosted by the returns of attacking duo Mario Mandzukic and Raul Garcia. The Spaniard has shrugged off an arm injury, while the Croatian hitman has overcome a recurring ankle problem to be fit for the pivotal clash.
Real Madrid have no worries on the injury front, and have a fully fit squad along with Gareth Bale, who missed his sides’ 3-0 win over Eibar on Saturday.
Antoine Griezmann vs Sergio Ramos
Atletico’s talisman at the moment, Antoine Griezmann just can’t stop scoring. The French attacker, after struggling initially to settle down following his big money move, has been a revelation for Simeone’s side. The former Real Sociedad man netted against Real Madrid in their 4-0 rout in February, also scoring a brace during the weekend, and will look to carry his sublime form against Atletico’s fiercest rivals. Sergio Ramos will have a tough night against the pacy attacker.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Juanfran
Although Cristiano Ronaldo has been scoring for fun this season, Atletico Madrid seemed to have found the formula to stop the Portuguese. Ronaldo was ineffective in the last game against Atleti, and failed to muster a single shot on target. That being said, Simeone’s side can’t rest on their laurels, with even a small error committed by his side bound to be punished by the 30-year-old. Ronaldo scored an incredible 15 goals against Tuesday’s opponent’s, and Atletico’s left hand side will have to find a way to stop the former Manchester United man from building on his 8 goals in the competition.
Koke vs Luka Modric
Two sides’ most creative players in Koke and Luka Modric will come up against each other. Koke has been a constant outlet of assists for Atletico Madrid with his deadball expertise, while Madrid have found a new life since the return of Modric from injury. Despite the absence of a defensive minded midfielder in Real Madrid’s midfield, Modric’s positional sense and understanding with Toni Kroos means they can do without steel alongside. Could even prove to be the decisive battle.
Atletico are undefeated in their last six matches against Real with their last loss coming in last year’s Champions League final.
Atletico, who have not tasted defeat in any competition since February, are unbeaten at home against Spanish sides in Europe, having won five and drawn one of their six past matches, keeping four clean sheets in that run.
This is just the second ever meeting between the two sides in the Champions League with the previous being last year’s final.
Manager Quotes –
“I am not winding back the clock and looking at past games because it will be a new and different match, part of a quarter-final tie, which is not the same as a Champions League final. We will be facing a great opponent on a great run of form in the domestic league and who are performing strongly in the Champions League.”
“To come up against Simeone is an honour and a problem. I expect a very level tie. We have a 50 per cent chance to go through. Two draws could be enough to go through, which is why we are not obsessing about beating Atletico. “We are dreaming of winning the 11th European title. (Ronaldo) is able to take advantage because we are now playing with more speed and this gives him space in front of goal.”
Atletico Madrid –
Mario Mandzukic for Fernando Torres is the only change we could see for Atletico Madrid from the side that drew 2-2 at Malaga
Real Madrid will also make one change, with the fit-again Bale replacing Jese Rodriguez.
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Real Madrid
Real Madrid haven’t enjoyed recent trips to the Vicente Calderón, which gives the home side an advantage. Expect the shrewd Simeone to have the upper hand again.
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Image Courtesy: Zimbio, Daily Mail, UEFA