Real derby dominance on the line

Posted by Rob Train

Just how many times has Real Madrid prevented Atletico from winning the derby? It's an interesting figure. 24 times in the last 14 years. Just how many times has Real Madrid beaten a German team in Germany? Just the once in 25 attempts.

- Ronaldo out of Madrid derby

Believe me, colchoneros will lie down with any statistic that might signal an end to 14 years of derby day nightmares. The last time Atletico beat Real in the capital city showdown was in 1999. Iker Casillas was second choice keeper then, something that for the ensuing decade and a half has been practically unthinkable; until January at least.

The Spain captain and all-round saint of madridismo might get a game on Saturday -- Real is likely to field the reserves for the Madrid derby despite the proximity of Atletico in the battle for the best Jose Mourinho's side can hope for in the league; second place.

But this season Atletico has presented its more illustrious neighbor with something of a conundrum: a serious challenge to its local bragging rights. For countless years Atletico has been to Real as flies are to the wanton gods in Shakespeare's canon. While not literally disposed to put Atletico down -- a kindness both sides might have considered in the darkest years of the derby -- the sport in the capital has certainly been flattened with a Real-shaped swatter for as long as any fan of the Manzanares club cares to remember. More than a serious opponent, the rojiblancos have been an unwelcome presence in Madrid's royal soup.

The last nine encounters between the two have been won by Real. Not a single point has been gleaned by the southern Madrid side despite the presence of goalscorers such as Kun Aguero, Diego Forlan and the kid Torres (he scores goals when wearing something red at least). Somehow, the rub of the green always turns white when Real is wiping its boots on Atletico de Madrid.

But the panorama ahead of Saturday's game is distinctly gray: Cristiano Ronaldo, who is worth at least a goal in any game, is not in the squad. Real would rather ensure he is fit and ready for mission almost-impossible in the return match with Dortmund on Tuesday. Key Real players such as Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira are bound to be rested. What Atletico is likely to face is Castilla plus the stiffs -- if Kaka, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and a few canteranos who would walk into any other Liga starting 11 can be described as such.

The real problem facing Atletico is that rather than going into the match as underdog, it really won't be able to find an excuse for not beating Real Madrid B. And if there is anything that Atletico likes to cling to, it is the red and white equivalent of Mourinho's "por que" diatribe after the Champions League ousting by Barcelona. They will have no such fallback this time.

Diego Costa may not be the purist's forward but he is the footballing equivalent of a mosquito in the ear. When sleep is impossible, you extend your arm and invite the irritant to help itself. Costa fits this bill perfectly and the rescinding of a yellow card against Sevilla means he is able to provide Atletico with a red card in-waiting. And Pepe is hardly the Big Lebowski's dude in terms of temperament.

Radamel Falcao has recently rediscovered the back of the net and in Koke, The Onion and Adrian, Diego Simeone has ample cover for the convalescing Arda Turan. In the last match, the absence of Filipe Luis proved key to Real's dominance of the right flank. The Brazilian international is gunning for this match and in view of the engagements pressing on Real's squad, the final divorce after 14 years of the old Spanish football adage 'sufrimiento' has never been closer for Atletico. But much like a real break up, the home side needs to make the first move. If Real bags first, any notion of romance at the Calderon will be over yet again.

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