(FILES) This file photo taken on January 20, 2015 shows a general view of the Vicente Calderon stadium on the banks of the Manzanares river, in Madrid.
It is the end of half a century of fiery duels in the “cauldron” of the Manzanares river bank: the boiling match Atletico vs Real Madrid on November 19, 2016 should be the Spanish Championship’s last derby played at the Vicente-Calderon stadium, before the move of the “Colchoneros”, planned for the next year. / AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO /
Atletico Madrid host Real Madrid for the last time in La Liga at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday with the pain of a second Champions League final defeat in three years to their city rivals still fresh in the memory.
However, both sides have been troubled by severe injury problems with Atletico’s top scorer Antoine Griezmann and Real captain Sergio Ramos facing a race against time to be fit.
Real lifted their 11th European Cup on penalties in the last meeting between the teams in May and Atletico are the more desperate side for more reasons than just revenge as Diego Simeone’s men lie six points off the leaders at the top of the table.
“There are scars that remain there and that we will never forget,” said Atletico captain Gabi.
“They are bitter moments and above all they are hard because of what it meant to all Atletico fans.”
Atletico are due to move to their new La Peineta stadium next season after 50 years at the Calderon.
And after two defeats in three games, Gabi believes victory is necessary to get back in the title hunt.
“That it is the last derby at the Calderon in La Liga makes it all the more exciting and special,” he added.
“If we win we are in the fight once more.”
Griezmann returned from international duty with France with a severely bruised left foot, but has trained this week and is expected to start.
Real are even more ravaged by injury with Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Alvaro Morata definitely sidelined.
Ramos hasn’t played since spraining knee ligaments over a month ago, but is aiming to return with his usual central defensive partner Pepe also a major doubt.
However, Madrid will have a fully-fit Luka Modric, who Gabi described as Real’s “best player” free to start for the first time in nearly two months.
Despite Real’s European hoodoo over Atletico, it is the red and white side of Madrid that has dominated in recent seasons in league encounters.
Atletico haven’t lost a league derby in the past three seasons, including Zinedine Zidane’s only La Liga defeat as Real boss in a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu back in February.
– Barca’s chance –
With their two major title rivals facing off, Barcelona have the chance to jump into top spot earlier on Saturday when Malaga visit the Camp Nou.
Barca reversed a trend of poor results following international breaks with a 4-0 hammering of Deportivo la Coruna last month, but once again face being deprived of some of their South American stars.
Luis Suarez is suspended, whilst Lionel Messi and Neymar only arrived back in Barcelona on Thursday after starring for Argentina and Brazil respectively in World Cup qualifying.
Paco Alcacer will start in Suarez’s absence as he continues his search for a first Barca goal since a 30 million euro move from Valencia in August.
Meanwhile, Barca should be boosted by the return of Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba from injury.
Sevilla will aim to remain in the title hunt and bounceback from a thrilling 2-1 defeat to Barca a fortnight ago when they visit Deportivo la Coruna.
Villarreal travel to Athletic Bilbao in a match of huge consequence in the battle for the fourth Champions League place in the pick of Sunday’s fixtures.
Two sides will also be under new management for the first time as Victor Sanchez takes charge of Betis at home to Las Palmas and Joaquin Caparros’s bow as Osasuna coach comes on Monday at Leganes.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Real Betis v Las Palmas (1945)
Deportivo la Coruna v Sevilla (1200), Barcelona v Malaga (1515), Eibar v Celta Vigo (1730), Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid (1945)
Alaves v Espanyol (1100), Valencia v Granada (1515), Sporting Gijon v Real Sociedad (1730), Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal (1945)
Leganes v Osasuna (1945)