Agreat match awaits us on Tuesday night as Real Madrid welcome local rivals Atletico Madrid to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu with a number of key issues set to dominate the Champions League semi-final first leg. Here are eight that could decide who reaches Cardiff.
Real full-backs’ offensive dominance
While some may put Filipe Luis as their best left-back in the world, it’s hard to deny that Los Blancos come into the game stronger in this part of the pitch. Together, Marcelo and Dani Carvajal have provided 21 assists this season compared to Luis’ seven. Furthermore, there is a great problem for the visitors on the right side of defence with Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko unavailable while Jose Gimenez misses the first leg.
Oblak is the more confident goalkeeper
The statistics bear a great disparity between the two keepers on Tuesday night with Keylor Navas conceding at a rate of 1.28 goals per game and the Costa Rican’s opposite number, Jan Oblak, going along at a 0.61 average. Arguably one of his greatest performances in an Atleti shirt came in the 2014/15 quarter-final meeting between the two sides, where Oblak was only beaten after 177 minutes.
Defensive fragility in Los Blancos
Further to the point, Real concede in pretty much every game they play. Only ten clean sheets have arrived Zinedine Zidane’s side’s way this season, from 53 matches, with it eight games since their last shutout. Meanwhile, Los Colchoneros boast a record of just 39 let in all campaign, 28 less than their neighbours who are also without Pepe on Tuesday.
The battle of the matchwinners
Karim Benzema & Co. cannot be dismissed going into this game but the simple fact is that Cristiano Ronaldo almost single-handedly took Los Merengues past Bayern Munich in the last round with five goals. Such a dependence is in contrast to Atletico, who have Antoine Griezmann ably backed up by Kevin Gameiro at the front of their 4-4-2.
Dominating the air
Diego Simeone usually has his team well drilled at set-pieces but it’s the first leg hosts who’ll boast the immediate advantage. Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Benzema, and Raphael Varane are all regular scorers from balls into the box as they lead Los Rojiblancos 38 headed goals to 16 this season.
Who will replace Bale?
Zidane will not be able to turn to the BBC combination up front and will have to decide who will fill in for Bale in the starting XI. The favourite is Isco, who was rested against Valencia and has hit top-form in the past month. But, Asensio is another viable option to partner Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema up front for Los Blancos. Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are guaranteed to start in midfield and will be up against Gabi, Koke and Saul.
Casemiro’s dangerous forcefulness
Diego Simeone and Atletico are aware that Casemiro plays on the edge in every game. An early yellow card for the Brazilian would change his style of play and that of the rest of his team. It happened recently against Bayern and again in El Clasico against Barcelona. The midfielder got involved in a number of dangerous situations that ran the risk of leaving his side with ten men very early on in the game. Should Atletico manage to get the Madrid midfielder sent off, they will gain a lot.
The Belgium international suffered a shoulder injury against Villarreal but, despite seemingly being ruled out of the Champions League tie on Tuesday night, the forward trained on Sunday without issue with the rest of his team. His presence in the starting XI would present another problem for Madrid, as they found out in the final in Milan last season. His condition will be key to Atletico’s chances.