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LA LIGA PREVIEW

Atlético approaches derby in the ascendancy

After controversial victory over Elche, Ancelotti admits that Real desperately needs to improve

Referee Muñiz Fernandez and a frustrated Carlos Sánchez during the match between Elche CF and Real Madrid.rn Ampliar foto
Referee Muñiz Fernandez and a frustrated Carlos Sánchez during the match between Elche CF and Real Madrid. Jose Breton/Cordon Press

“Playing like this we won’t win the derby,” said Carlo Ancelotti after Real Madrid had beaten Elche in controversial circumstances on Wednesday night. Match referee César Muñiz Fernández awarded the visiting side a penalty in the 94th minute for a non-existent foul, having initially added three minutes of stoppage time.

Elche had equalized in the 92nd and was on course for a deserved point after outplaying Real for long periods. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and hammered the penalty home to seal a victory that left a bitter taste in the mouth of non-Madridistas. It was not long before someone pulled out a statistics sheet on Fernández and totted up his penalty count: 14 in favor of Real Madrid, two against.

The official also failed to dismiss Sergio Ramos for a potentially second bookable offense that was clearer cut than his first and awarded Real a free kick from which Ronaldo opened the scoring when Elche argued that no infraction had taken place.

Atlético is unbeaten thanks to Costa's goals and its habitual grit

“Watching a comedy show on Canal+ Liga [the channel showing the match], always good at this time of night!” quipped Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué on Twitter.

“I’m delighted that people have swapped theater for the cinema,” shot back Álvaro Arbeloa.

Indeed Barcelona recently benefited from the vagaries of Muñiz, who ruled out a perfectly good goal by Sevilla’s Juan Cala in Camp Nou earlier this month.

But the refereeing row aside, Ancelotti’s honest analysis is accurate. If Real plays like it did in the Martínez Valero, it will struggle to beat Atlético on Saturday (10pm, Canal+), despite the fact that it has not lost a league game to its city rival since 1999. “When we come up against these teams we need to find solutions,” the Italian noted. Had Elche been able to boast a striker in rich form, Real would have left Valencia empty handed. Atlético’s Brazilian-Spanish forward Diego Costa is, along with Leo Messi, the joint-leading scorer in the division and is being courted by the Spanish Football Federation with a view to representing Spain. Thanks to Costa’s seven goals and the habitual grit of Diego Simeone’s men, Atlético boasts a perfect record going into the game.

Rami said Djukic will not speak to him face-to-face and that his teammates are “bootlickers”

One player who will probably not feature this weekend is Valencia’s Adil Rami, who gave a fruity interview to AS this week in which he said that under-fire coach Miroslav Djukic would not speak to him face-to-face and that some of his teammates were “bootlickers.” Valencia managed a 1-0 win in Granada in the midweek action, Jonas popping up in the 93rd minute to give Djukic a little breathing space. Rami was excluded from the squad while club bosses ponder what punishment to mete out. Meanwhile, Rayo travels to Mestalla at the weekend for a match that is well-timed from Djukic’s point of view. The Madrid club was roundly beaten by Sevilla on Wednesday and sits bottom of the division with 20 goals conceded in five consecutive losses. “We do more damage to ourselves than other teams do,” noted Paco Jémez after seeing two of his players sent off in Seville.

Immediately above Rayo is Osasuna, which hosts a slowly improving Levante side in the Sunday noon kick-off. The sun may be high but the goal count probably won’t be, with both sides having managed just five so far this season.

Almería faces the opposite problem: how to stop Barcelona from getting to half a dozen in the Mediterráneo. Gerardo Martino’s team has been quick to adapt to its new coach and embraced the idea that a goal need not be preceded by 74 crisp passes. In sticking five past Rayo, Barcelona had less possession than the home side, yet against Real Sociedad midweek the ball was firmly at their feet. Against La Real, the champion approached perfection once more. Almería has registered a trademark on its return to the top flight: going two up only to be pegged back for a point. The home side will be at the sharp end from the outset on Saturday.

Just behind the top three, Villarreal ended the spread of midweek games by beating Espanyol 2-1 on Thursday night to keep up its unbeaten record.