La Liga leader Real welcomes stumbling Atletico for Madrid derby

Real Madrid comes into the Madrid Derby three points clear at the top of the La Liga table after Barcelona’s loss at Valencia last weekend.

Their meeting at the Wanda Metropolitano earlier this season ended in a goalless draw.   -  AFP

New La Liga leader Real Madrid faces stumbling neighbour Atletico Madrid in Saturday lunchtime’s Spanish capital derby at the Santiago Bernabeu.

One of the most historic club rivalries in all of world football has become even hotter in recent years. What’s more, this weekend’s game could have a huge say in the title race.

Real Madrid comes into the game three points clear at the top of the table after Barcelona’s loss at Valencia last weekend. Atletico, meanwhile, is now 10 points behind in fifth spot so realistically needs to win at the Bernabeu to keep its title hopes alive.

Last weekend saw Zinedine Zidane’s side overcome an impressive challenge from Real Valladolid, thanks to a second half header from versatile defender Nacho Fernandez. Meanwhile, Diego Simeone's men were held to a 0-0 draw in another derby against suburban Madrid side Leganes.

Los Blancos are top of La Liga’s ‘form table’ with 12 points from their last six outings and are especially strong at home, with seven wins and three draws from their 10 games this season.

Meanwhile, away form has been an issue for Simeone’s team. It has won just three of 10 La Liga games on the road so far and was surprisingly beaten 2-0 at Eibar last time out.

French centre-forward Karim Benzema remains the leader's top source of goals, with 12 in his 20 league appearances. Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has also been outstanding, with five clean sheets in his last seven La Liga outings and just seven goals conceded at the Bernabeu all season.

Fitness issues have affected both Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard recently, but Zidane will hope to have at least one of these attacking stars available on Saturday.

Atletico’s most inform recent player, meanwhile, is Argentine attacker Angel Correa, with two goals and two assists in his last five La Liga games. Brazilian centre-back Felipe has settled in really well, while Croatian right-back Sime Vrsaljko returned from a long-term injury absence last weekend. The latest derby will be especially emotional for Atletico’s Alvaro Morata, Marcos Llorente and Mario Hermoso, all of who spent time at the Bernabeu earlier in their careers.

These teams’ most recent derby came in January’s Spanish Super Cup final, when Real Madrid ran out winner on penalties adding to its dramatic 2014 and 2016 Champions League final victories over the neighbour. The first meeting of the season at the Wanda Metropolitano was another tight encounter which ended goalless.

Simeone’s side has an excellent record at the Bernabeu recently, however, winning two and drawing three of its last five La Liga visits. It also famously won the 2013 Copa del Rey final derby on its neighbour's home turf.

The crunch for Atletico will be whether its excellent historical record in this fixture will be enough to overcome Real Madrid’s better recent form in the league. La Liga fans all over the world will be tuning in on Saturday to find out.