Whatever happens at the Santiago Bernabeu, the La Liga title race stays alive. But if Real Madrid leave with the three points against fierce rivals Atletico Madrid they put a gun to its forehead.
The Clasico is Barcelona’s last chance saloon. Win that and the title will go down to the wire, providing they don’t slip up themselves. But if the Roijiblancos can leave Chamartin with three points, the dynamic of the run-in will be totally transformed.
And Atletico are getting accustomed to doing just that. They have won their last three league games at Madrid, inflicting Zinedine Zidane’s first defeat on February 27, 2016. Possibly the Frenchman’s worst day since taking charge.
While Atletico don’t have much to play for in La Liga, virtually assured of a top four finish yet unable to challenge for the title, and with one eye on the Champions League quarter-final clash with Leicester City on Wednesday, pride is at stake.
It always is, of course, obviously, in these type of clashes. But moreso than ever after Madrid inflicted a stinging 3-0 defeat on Atletico at the Vicente Calderon.
It was the last Madrid derby at Atletico’s traditional home before they change stadiums—barring a Champions League semi-final pairing—and Cristiano Ronaldo gatecrashed the party, scoring the 39th hat-trick of his career.
That defeat came during a long period of stylistic uncertainty for Atletico, but in recent weeks the team has returned to its old look, the rugged, defensive, one-goal-is-enough-if-we-don’t-concede outlook.
They have won five league matches in a row. Four of them to zero. The only goal conceded against Sevilla, whom they have overtaken in the table.
Keeping Madrid out will be a challenge. Zidane’s team have scored in 51 consecutive games, with Manchester City the last team to shut them out, one year ago.
Los Blancos are at full strength, bar injured Raphael Varane, and well rested as Zidane made multiple changes for the 4-2 win over Leganes in midweek.
They will send out the team that started against Atletico in last season’s Champions League final. A reminder to the visitors of their superiority, when it really counts.