COPA DEL REY | REAL MADRID - ATLÉTICO
Cup derby with Real Madrid out for revenge
Simeone’s Atleti visit the Bernabéu tonight (8pm) in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.
This match is already vintage: it started back on 17 May last year, when Atlético won the Copa del Rey in the Bernabéu, and broke a run of 14 years without a win against Madrid. That night Atleti lifted a trophy and overcame their complex – as they proved on 28 September, when they went back to the home of Real Madrid on league business and won again (0-1). Four months on from that match Simeone’s side are the leaders of the league and the kings of optimism. In two weeks, and having overcome a couple of stutters (a draw at home against Sevilla), they are full of reasons to believe. Diego’s back and Luis is looking out for them from on-high.
Madrid’s situation is different. The draw in Bilbao has knocked the toupee askew and messed with their placid winning run. In addition to the loss of a couple points there was the sending off of Ronaldo – the Competition Committee will decide his punishment today (Wednesday). In principle he should be able to play against Atleti and there Madrid’s preference, for the ban to be served in the league, coincides with Atleti’s interest. Let me explain: Cristiano in his normal state is dangerous enough, without provoking him further. Moreover, Cristiano turns 29 today, who knows how he’s planning to celebrate.
In principle, the script from the last match shouldn’t serve particularly as a guide. Back then, Ancelotti, recently arrived, was still blethering away in Esperanto, trying to fit together pieces and languages. With Alonso injured he had Illarramendi and Khedira trying to control the midfield. Isco was starting and Jesé didn’t even have a place on the bench.
Things have changed since then. Xabi’s at the helm, Di María is in the midfield and Bale’s an expensive Ming vase. The Welshman is back in the side after 11 days of strains and pains. It would be good news, but his return condemns the most decisive player of recent matches: Jesé. It’s clear, as if there were any doubts, that anyone can be waited for, except Casillas. As it’s a cup game though, Iker does get to go in goals. Unbeaten against Atlético, maybe he’s the last mental block Simeone’s side still has to overcome. As my colleague (and, also, friend) Iñako Díaz-Guerra, our Atleti match reporter, said: “The water they baptised him in must have something... fourteen years on the trot”.
For ‘Cholo’s’ army the biggest news is the arrival of Diego. His talent (creativity, passing, goals and general beauty) brings to Atleti something that only Arda has given them up to now. The Turk, by the way, will also start, recovered as he is from his muscle problems. The combination of those two is the main reason for Atlético to trust in a good result. With those two they can accept the absences of Filipe and Villas as normal problems. They also don’t need to worry excessively about the problems in the midfield: Mario Suárez isn’t in the squad and Tiago is coming back from injury. Given all that Koke, once again, will line up alongside Gabi.
Diego Costa is something else. Like Cristiano. They are different, as is what drives them. One fights the world, the other himself. That’s another derby in itself and much of the Cup will be decided on how it turns out.