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HindustanTimes Wed,26 Nov 2014

Football

Sparks set to fly in Madrid derby
AFP
Madrid, March 02, 2014
First Published: 00:25 IST(2/3/2014)
Last Updated: 00:29 IST(2/3/2014)

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti believes his side's fourth meeting of the campaign against Atletico Madrid on Sunday will be as keenly contested as any so far this season.

Atletico have yet to lose at home in La Liga, but were comprehensively beaten by Real in both legs of their recent Copa del Rey semi-final as Los Blancos progressed 5-0 on aggregate.

In the second leg of that tie Cristiano Ronaldo was hit on the head by a lighter thrown from the Atletico fans, whilst a number of clashes between the players in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu were also criticised for lacking sportsmanship.

With Real sitting just three points ahead of Atletico at the top of the table, Ancelotti is expecting a fiery atmosphere at the Vicente Calderon. However, the Italian is hoping that passions don't spill over into more unsavoury scenes.

"Tomorrow will be an intense game. That is normal, but I don't think it will be ugly," he said.

"We will try to play our football. To take control of a derby you have to play as well as you can.

"We have a three-point advantage, you could say that we are favourites, but they are playing at the Calderon and the fans help them a lot."

Real come into the game in top form on the back of a 27-game unbeaten run in all competitions and having thrashed Schalke 6-1 away in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Gareth Bale had arguably his best night in a Madrid shirt in Germany as he scored twice and provided two assists as Ronaldo and Karim Benzema also scored twice.

And Ancelotti said Bale is growing in confidence after an injury plagued campaign.

"He is returning to a very good level mentally and physically and you can see that on the pitch. He scored a great goal against Elche and he played very well against Schalke.

"His confidence is improving as is the way he combines with the rest of his teammates."

Ancelotti has no new injury worries as long-term absentee Sami Khedira is the only first-team player unavailable.

Diego Lopez will again replace Iker Casillas in goal from the side that started in midweek, whilst Raphael Varane and Alvaro Arbeloa are also in contention to start.

Looking to bounce back
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino expects his side to return to winning ways by playing in the style the world has become accustomed to seeing them exhibit when they host Almeria on Sunday.

The Catalans were unrecognisable as they were beaten 3-1 by Real Sociedad last weekend with Martino taking a lot of the criticism for the performance as he tinkered with his team selection and formation.

That defeat allowed Real Madrid to move three points ahead of Barcelona for the first time in La Liga this season and with just 13 games remaining, Martino knows his side can barely afford any more slip-ups if they are to retain their title.

"The fact that we didn't perform as we would have hoped in San Sebastian obliges us even more to be better against Almeria," he said.

"We need to change the mood as quickly as possible and a lot of that will depend on tomorrow (Sunday). Not just in whether we win, but that we play as we know how to."


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