Saturday’s Madrid Derby may be Atlético Madrid’s most important match of the season to date. Atlético’s recent loss at Real Betis and Real Madrid’s run of four straight victories in LaLiga has los blancos just two points behind the mattress makers for second place. (Meanwhile, league leaders Barcelona have increased their margin to six points and face an easier fixture at 12th-place Athletic Bilbao.)
Atleti sorely missed defender Diego Godín and midfielders Koke and Saúl in the 1-0 loss to Real Betis and the outcome may have been very different if they were in the starting lineup. However, all three had minor muscle injuries and it seems as if only Koke will have missed multiple matches. Their addition to the team could send Lucas Hernández and two of Rodrigo, Thomas Lemar, Thomas Partey and Angel Correa to the bench. Lemar and Partey might be the most likely to remain in the team given recent performances.
Koke, Saul and Godin have all been instrumental for Atleti this season. Godin has captained and anchored the defense to just 14 goals allowed, again leading LaLiga.
Koke has scored two goals and his 85 percent passing accuracy ranks second on the team. Saul’s 2.72 tackles per game rank second in the team, and his versatility has been extremely helpful this season. The 24-year-old has played right, center, left and defensive midfielder and even slotted in at left back for an amazing five matches.
Let’s also not forget Koke and Saul’s roles in the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid at the start of the season. Both players scored in extra time to help Atlético to the 4-2 win. Godín also assisted the opening goal in that match.
However, that Super Cup match was a bit of an outlier compared to recent Madrid derbis. The teams have drawn their last three matches in LaLiga, combining for a total of two goals. Saturday’s match could be another conservative, low-scoring affair in the vein of September’s 0-0 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu.