Madrid derby offers Atletico chance to prove title credentials

A win would send leader Atletico nine points clear of fourth-placed Real with a game in hand and send out the clearest message yet that it means business this season.

Atletico is the only unbeaten side in La Liga and has scored more goals per game than anyone else while conceding only twice in 10 matches.   -  GETTY IMAGES

After making its best start to a season since it last won the La Liga title, Atletico Madrid can consolidate its early promise and twist the knife into its city rival when it visits Real Madrid on Saturday.

Victory would send leader Atletico nine points clear of fourth-placed Real with a game in hand and send out the clearest message yet that it means business after missing out on the title since breaking the duopoly of Real and Barcelona in 2014.

Despite a perceived inferiority complex derived from seeing their neighbours sweep up so many trophies, Atletico are in many ways a stronger unit than Real right now.

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It is the only unbeaten side in La Liga and has scored more goals per game than anyone else while conceding only twice in 10 matches.

Atletico has also shed its reputation as a conservative side only focused on defence and now boasts an attack containing the flair of Joao Felix, the ruthlessness of Luis Suarez plus the power and pace of Marcos Llorente and Yannick Carrasco.

Its attacking approach has helped it find solutions in tight games, such as its last two victories against Real Valladolid and Valencia, extending its winning streak in La Liga to seven.

That consistency has contrasted with Madrid's stuttering title defence, as Zinedine Zidane's side has lost three times already in the league including shock home defeats to Cadiz and Alaves plus a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Valencia.

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Yet Madrid look to be turning a corner, with talismanic figures Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema having recovered from injury, and can always be relied on to deliver on the biggest occasions.

It has beaten Barcelona, Inter Milan and Sevilla while it overcame a poor start to the Champions League by beating Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-0 on Wednesday to qualify for the next round.

The derby against a soaring Atletico is exactly the type of game it relishes.

This team has this ability to come into its own when the going gets tough, coach Zidane said on Wednesday.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone added: "Madrid are an excellent team, they understand their players so well and always thrive when the pressure is on."

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Madrid is still missing Eden Hazard and Federico Valverde but should be boosted by the return of first-choice right back Dani Carvajal.

Atletico, who beat RB Salzburg in the Champions League to make it through as well, is without central defender Jose Gimenez and striker Diego Costa.

Elsewhere, Barcelona hosts Levante looking to respond to twin defeats to Cadiz and Juventus, while second-placed Real Sociedad plays Eibar at home searching for a first victory in three league games. 

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