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Transfer Rater: Malcom to Arsenal, Mata to Juve

Football Whispers

Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid Derbi a season-defining showdown

These are strange and puzzling times for football in Madrid -- with the first "Derbi" clash of the season coming at a crucial moment for both Atletico and Real.

Just last spring they met in the Champions League semifinal, with the Spanish capital widely seen as the centre of the world game.

A few months later and the mood is much gloomier around both the Bernabeu and Atletico's new Wanda Metropolitano. Both teams have stumbled through their opening 11 La Liga fixtures, finding themselves eight points behind runaway early leaders Barcelona.

Saturday evening's clash at the Wanda takes on even more significance than usual. It could act as a title eliminator, with a win for either potentially recharging their season, while the loser could really be plunged into full-on crisis.

ESPN FC spoke with local pundits to gauge the mood around the city, with Hugo Cerezo of Marca outlining just how things have dived for Zinedine Zidane's previously all-conquering team.

"There are many reasons for this situation," said Cerezo. "First, the squad has lost depth and quality. Cristiano Ronaldo was right, it is not the same to have [Alvaro] Morata, James [Rodriguez] or Pepe, or players for the future, however much potential they have. Secondly, the injuries -- Keylor [Navas], [Gareth] Bale, [Dani] Carvajal, [Mateo] Kovacic, Ronaldo's suspension ... Third, a logical dip after winning four trophies in four months. And fourth, a question of luck. Last year, everything went right. This year? No."

Cristiano Ronaldo has hinted he could leave Real Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo's slump has coincided with Real Madrid's suspect form.

Inako Diaz-Guerra of El Mundo explains why this season's Atletico have not been able to grind out results like before.

"The squad has got older," says Diaz-Guerra. "Not being able to sign new players last year, and not recruiting well the two before that, means there is nobody to relieve the veterans. Plus the disastrous performance of the centre-forwards means [Antoine] Griezmann has had to play out of position a lot, and he has been even worse. Diego Costa cannot arrive soon enough."

Ronaldo's worst start to a La Liga season is also a huge issue. He's reportedly unhappy, again, and has scored just once in seven appearances since missing the first four games through suspension.

"Last year, Cristiano also started the season half-gas and he ended up being decisive," says Eleanora Giovio, who covers Real for El Pais. "I'm sure that it will be the same this year, once he settles down in La Liga. And the only thing that settles him are goals. He has taken 48 shots and only scored one, so of course it is driving him crazy."

Saturday is the biggest night so far for Atletico's new 67,000 seater Wanda Metropolitano, with the team and their supporters still not really settled. At their old Calderon, Diego Simeone's side were teak-tough, but this season they have already slipped up late at home to Chelsea in the Champions League, and Barcelona and Villarreal domestically.

"At the moment playing at home is not a positive for Atletico -- I would even say it is harming them," says Atletico-leaning pundit Fran Guillen. "Filipe Luis has already publicly admitted the players feel strange still at the new ground. And the fans something similar. They all still miss the Calderon, although there is something clear -- a new home is built bit by bit, with victories as is possible on Saturday."

Atletico Madrid are yet to truly feel at home at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Saturday is the 20th meeting between the teams since February 2014 -- with six wins apiece and seven draws over that time. Manel Bru of Catalan daily Mundo Deportivo predicts another tight 90 minutes.

"Given how the two teams are at the moment, I would imagine a game with few goals," Bru says. "Whoever takes the few chances made will win. Fear of losing could be decisive, above all for Real Madrid who if they do not win will have practically lost La Liga. Not even a draw is any good to them."

Atletico's disastrous Champions League group also means their season is already on the line, Marca's Cerezo adds.

"Madrid just have to win ... and Atletico too," he says. "If Barca win their game earlier at Leganes, they will be 11 points ahead. Atletico should have the demands of the big club they are. And their inconsistent start to the season has to end now in La Liga, as they are practically out of the Champions League already."

There's plenty to play for on Saturday afternoon. This time, instead of reaching for glory, both Atletico and Real will be playing to save their seasons.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan


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