BARCELONA, Spain — If Atletico Madrid is going to get the most out of Antoine Griezmann's superb season and rekindle a Spanish league title challenge, then it needs to beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend.
Sunday's derby will feature another fascinating matchup between Griezmann and Madrid’s Jude Bellingham, both of whom have scored 18 goals across all competitions this season. Griezmann found the net in all three of the derbies played this campaign while Atletico's defense held Bellingham in check.
Third-place Atletico, which looked like a title contender until hitting a rough patch in December, trails leader Madrid by 10 points. So anything other than a victory would make it close to impossible for Diego Simeone’s side to have a shot at its first league crown since 2021.
Madrid, meanwhile, is aiming to take a big step toward wrenching the title from Barcelona over the next two games. After playing Atletico, Madrid will face second-place Girona, which is two points adrift.
“If we win the next two games we will have six more points in the table and that would be good news,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “There would still be a long way to go. (But) the important thing is that the team is engaged and playing well.”
Madrid’s only two losses in any competition this campaign have come at the hands of Atletico, which won their first league meeting 3-1 in September.
This will be the third meeting of the crosstown rivals in less than four weeks. Their previous two clashes were both extra-time thrillers that were loaded with goals and shifts in momentum. Madrid beat Atletico 5-3 in the Spanish Super Cup semifinals in Saudi Arabia, before Atletico got revenge with a 4-2 win in the Copa del Rey’s round of 16.
Bellingham leads the league along with Girona striker Artem Dobvyk and Getafe’s Borja Mayoral with 14 goals. Griezmann, who became the club’s all-time leading scorer last month, has 11 in the competition.
Álvaro Morata has added a team-high 13 league goals for Atletico, and Memphis Depay has scored in three consecutive games overall after missing a long stretch with an injury.
Bellingham is supported by Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, who have combined for 13 goals in the league.
While Bellingham at age 20 has a brilliant career ahead of him, the 32-year-old Griezmann is still searching for his first major title at Atletico other than the Europa League won in 2018, the same year he helped France win the World Cup.
Ancelotti may need to improvise to fill in his back four after Antonio Rüdiger left at halftime in the win over Getafe on Thursday due to a hard knock. Madrid lost defenders Éder Militão and David Alaba with ligament injuries that required surgery at the start of the season.
If Rüdiger is not available, then Madrid’s only pure central defender will be Nacho Fernández to face Griezmann and Morata.
Holding midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni would have been another option, but he will be serving a one-game suspension. Ancelotti may have to consider shifting either Dani Carvajal or Ferland Mendy in from the wing back positions or use a midfielder in defense.
Atletico was the biggest mover in the January transfer window. It beefed up by adding midfielder Arthur Vermeeren from Antwerp, defender Gabriel Paulista as a free agent from Valencia, and Romania goalkeeper Horațiu Moldovan as a backup for Jan Oblak.
Atletico will have just two full days of rest before Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal against Athletic Bilbao. Given the distance from the top of the league table, the cup looks like the best bet for a trophy.
But Simeone said he won't hold anything back for the derby.
“You know me. We will play with the best team available for each game,” Simeone said. “We have done that many times. There is no problem playing Sunday and Wednesday.”
Girona can provisionally recover the lead if it beats sixth-place Real Sociedad on Saturday, when Barcelona, in fourth place and level on points with Atletico, is at Alaves.