Atletico with final chance for success against Real in Madrid derby
Atletico Madrid head into Copa del Rey quarter-final at city rivals Real facing last chance to land silverware… but clash is already overshadowed by sick abuse of Vinicius Jr, while rivals Benzema and Griezmann will face-off in explosive tie
- Real Madrid host Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey
- Match represents the final chance of Atletico winning a trophy this season
- However the Madrid derby is overshadowed by abuse aimed at Vinicius Jr
Diego Simeone said: ‘we are both playing for the same thing’ when asked who had more at stake in Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final with Real Madrid.
He will know that his answer was not entirely true – Carlo Ancelotti’s team have three other shots at silverware between now and the end of the season, for Atletico this is it, if they go out they will finish the season empty-handed.
In a game overshadowed by more horrific abuse aimed at Vinicius, condemned on all sides as repugnant and deplorable, the Madrid neighbours will vie for a place in the semi-finals in a derby that will go along way to defining this season for the away side.
Sparks are set to fly as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid face off in the Copa del Rey last eight
Atletico boss Diego Simeone looks on during training ahead of the Madrid derby on Thursday
Simeone has already seen his team exit Europe and slip out of the title race, this is the only route to glory this season.
It will be a long night if things go to form – since Simeone has been at the club, Atletico have met Real Madrid five times in one-legged cup competition, and the game has always gone to extra time.
The focus falls on four strikers ahead of kick-off: France team-mates who will be on opposing sides: as it sometimes seemed they were in Qatar; Vinicius; and new signing Memphis Depay who could make an appearance from the bench.
Vinicius was the target of sick fan abuse in a previous meeting and in the build up to this game
Atletico fans have hung a Vinicius effigy from one of bridges within the city (above)
The game pits Antoine Griezmann against Karim Benzema. The two began the World Cup together in Qatar but Benzema was sent home with an injury and Griezmann, who won the World Cup in Russia while Benzema was still out of favour with the international team, was one of those team-mates who close observers of the French team felt was not overly upset by his absence.
A close-up image of the Vinicius Jr effigy was posted on Madrid Zone’s Twitter account
For Vinicius there had been talk of Madrid fans applauding him on minute 20 in an act of support. Regardless of whether that happens the atmosphere inside the stadium will be pro-the young Brazilian like never before.
And for Memphis it could be the first chance to start repaying the faith shown in him by Diego Simeone.
The Atletico coach has said he wants the forward to rediscover his Lyon form adding that he believes the Dutch international can become the team’s new Diego Costa leading the line alone with threatening counterattacks and bundles of boisterous energy.
If the game does need an extra 30 minutes to decide who joins Barcelona, Osasuna and Valencia or Athletic Bilbao in next Monday’s semi-final draw Memphis as a late impact sub will have value – and the added motivation of possibly meeting Barcelona in the semi-finals will be huge.
It’s not the first time Simeone has mentioned Costa in press conferences this season. The Brazilian forward played and scored when Atletico Madrid beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the 2013 Copa del Rey final.
It was significant because Atletico had gone 13 years without beating Real Madrid in their stadium and to do so winning a trophy marked a power shift in the Spanish capital heralding a trophy-laden era for Atletico.
Winning on Thursday night would not so much mark a changing of the guard as lift the gloom that has engulfed Atletico all season.
Karim Benzema (left) is expected to lead the line for Real Madrid and he will be up against France rival Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid
Memphis Depay will also be looking to impress following his recent arrival from Barcelona
Diego Simeone’s future remains uncertain despite there being no truth in the story that he has already told the club he will move on in the summer. He is expected to stay but he needs a trophy to keep his ever-growing army of detractors quiet.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Nacho, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Camavinga, Kroos, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Molina, Savic, Hermoso, Reinildo; Koke; Correa, De Paul, Lemar, Griezmann; Morata
He is a happier manager now that he no longer feels obliged to shoehorn Joao Felix into his tactical plan. Atletico will line up 4-1-4-1 with the emphasis on exposing a Madrid side still missing Casemiro’s expensive summer replacement Aurelian Tchouameni from the heart of its midfield.
These are crucial days in Madrid’s season too – they are home to third placed Real Sociedad on Sunday in La Liga and then to Valencia next Thursday in a rearranged game. Then after a trip to Mallorca, Madrid are off to Morocco for the World Club Cup. The volume of games is a threat to a squad that still relies hugely on the tired legs of 37-year-old Luca Modric who should start at the Bernabeu.
But Madrid, who haven’t won the cup since 2014, also under Carlo Ancelotti, will have other opportunities for glory if they fail. For Atletico it’s victory or a trophyless season; a bold statement or another tell-tale sign that Simeone has gone stale.
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