One of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in the La Liga calendar will take place at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium on Saturday night as Real Madrid welcome capital rivals Atletico Madrid.
The hosts are currently fourth in Spain's top flight, six points behind leaders Atletico, who also have a game in hand, with Diego Simeone's side making an excellent start to the 2020-21 campaign.
There was a lot of pressure on Real Madrid and indeed head coach Zinedine Zidane when the Spanish champions lost back-to-back matches to Alaves and Shakhtar Donetsk on November 28 and December 1 respectively.
At that stage, Los Blancos were losing ground in the league and were also in danger of being eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League, which would have been a disaster for the club.
Zidane's side managed to pick up a huge 1-0 victory away to Sevilla in the league last weekend, though, before recording a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Wednesday night to ensure that they would be present in the last-16 stage of Europe's leading competition.
Real Madrid can now fully concentrate on league matters, and a record of six wins, two draws and three defeats from 11 matches has left them in fourth position, which is far from disastrous. That said, they are already six points behind leaders Atletico, who have a game in hand at the top of the division.
Los Blancos won four of their five league matches between September 26 and October 24, including a 3-1 victory at Barcelona in El Clasico. Zidane's side have lost two of their last four in Spain's top flight, though, with Valencia and Alaves both taking all three points off the reigning champions.
There is simply no downplaying the importance of this weekend's contest as Atletico have the look of a side that will not be dropping too many points between now and the end of the season. Real Madrid have managed 17 goals in their 11 league games this season, which is the fourth-best record, but they have conceded 12 times, which is 10 more than Atletico.
Karim Benzema has managed four La Liga goals this term, but the next highest goalscorer in the squad is Federico Valverde with three. Eden Hazard's injury problems have continued, while Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes have all struggled for form.
Real Madrid are unbeaten against Atletico in the league since February 2016, though, and have been victorious in two of their last three meetings in Spain's top flight. Los Blancos will not win or lose the title this weekend, but a defeat would leave Atletico full of confidence and in a very strong position in the table.
Atletico are absolutely flying in Spain's top flight, having recorded seven straight victories, including a 1-0 win over Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano on November 21. Simeone's side have actually won their last four in the league without conceding a single goal, which is an indication of their credentials.
The Red and Whites are only one point clear of second-placed Real Sociedad at the summit but have two games in hand over the Basque club, while they have one game in hand over fourth-placed Real Madrid and boast a six-point advantage over Zidane's team.
Atletico have incredibly not lost in La Liga since a 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid on February 1, which is a staggering run of form. The capital giants are seen by many as the favourites for the title this season, and it is difficult to argue due to the problems that their bitter rivals and Barcelona undoubtedly have.
Simeone's team have four league matches between now and the end of the year, hosting Elche next weekend before a difficult trip to high-flying Sociedad on December 22. Atletico will then finish 2020 at home to Getafe and will be looking to keep their place at the summit heading into 2021.
Like Real Madrid, Atletico also booked their spot in the last-16 stage of the Champions League on Wednesday night courtesy of an impressive 2-0 victory away to Red Bull Salzburg. Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco scored the goals in Austria as Simeone's side qualified behind Bayern Munich.
Not since 2013-14 have Atletico managed to lift the La Liga title, finishing third on four occasions and claiming second twice in the six seasons since. It does appear that the team's title challenge will again be built on a strong defence, having conceded just twice in 10 matches thus far.
That said, Simeone's team have the second-best attacking record in La Liga this season with 21 goals, with Luis Suarez and Joao Felix already managing 10 between them in Spain's top flight.
Atletico have not actually beaten Real Madrid in the league since February 2016, but they have only lost on one of their last seven league visits to their bitter rivals and will likely view a point as a positive result considering the position of the two teams in the table.
Real Madrid La Liga form: WWLDLW
Real Madrid form (all competitions): DWLLWW
Atletico Madrid La Liga form: WWWWWW
Atletico Madrid form (all competitions): WDWDWW
Madrid will again be without the services of Hazard through injury, while Luka Jovic is also still on the sidelines with a muscular problem.
Martin Odegaard is a huge doubt with a muscle issue of his own, meanwhile, but Sergio Ramos made his return against Gladbach on Wednesday night, while Dani Carvajal was on the bench, and the two players are expected to be in the home side's starting XI for this match.
Valverde could also make the squad, having recovered from a shin problem, although it seems likely that Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will line up as the midfield three.
Benzema is a certainty to lead the Real Madrid attack, while Asensio and Vinicius could get the nod in the wide areas, with Rodrygo Goes expected to drop to the bench.
As for Atletico, Jose Gimenez, Diego Costa and Manu Sanchez remain on the sidelines through injury, but the visitors are otherwise in good shape when it comes to absentees.
Angel Correa and Lucas Torreira are both pushing for spots in the starting XI, but there are not expected to be many surprises in the side, with Luis Suarez set to be joined by Felix in the final third of the field.
Simeone is likely to keep faith with a back three of Stefan Savic, Felipe and Hermoso, with Carrasco expected to get the nod over Vitolo on the left and Kieran Trippier lining up on the right. Marcos Llorente, Koke and Saul Niguez, meanwhile, should feature in the middle of the park.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vinicius, Benzema, Asensio
Atletico Madrid possible starting lineup:
Oblak; Savic, Felipe, Hermoso; Trippier, Llorente, Koke, Saul, Carrasco; L Suarez, Felix
Head To Head
The two teams have locked horns on 166 occasions in Spain's top flight, and Real Madrid lead the head-to-head 88 wins to Atletico's 39, with the remaining 39 matches finishing all square.
As mentioned, Real Madrid have won two of their last three league meetings, while Atletico have not been victorious since February 2016. Draws have been a common theme in recent years, though, with four of their last seven meetings in Spain's top flight finishing as draws.
Real Madrid have only beaten Atletico in the league on home soil once since December 2012, while the pair played out a goalless draw at the Wanda Metropolitano last season.
Source: Sports Mole / Matt Law