Andy Brassell on European Football: Atlético need to step up for Madrid derby
Diego Simeone's misfiring side need to find their shooting boots, writes Andy Brassell, as do Bundesliga strugglers Werder Bremen
Atlético need to recover their best selves for derby day
Atlético Madrid's early Sunday game with Leganés was either perfect hangover television or enough to prolong that morning-after feeling, depending on your point of view. It certainly wasn't the beautiful game as we know it, with Diego Simeone's side second-best to the side that began the game as La Liga's bottom team for most of it, before they belatedly found some impetus in the closing stages.
It certainly wasn't the two aspirin and a glass of water that Atleti had needed following the midweek Copa exit at third-tier Cultural Leonesa. They were lethargic, slipped out of the top four and are yet to score in La Liga since arriving back from the Supercopa in Saudi Arabia.
Clearly the potential arrival of Edinson Cavani is more desperately needed that ever, though few expect them to get anything out of Saturday's trip to Real Madrid. The Liga leaders are big favourites to take this latest derby at 1.87, with Atleti out at [4.7]. Remarkably, the last time that they bested Los Rojiblancos at the Bernabéu in La Liga was in December 2012, when José Mourinho was still the coach. Of the 14 Liga meetings since, seven have ended in draws and four of the others have been decided by a one-goal margin.
It just goes to remind us that Simeone and company don't need the ball, or to play well, to extract a result, and Zinedine Zidane has always struggled in (domestic) Madrid derbies. Atleti can't be written off but need to recover their best selves quickly.
A stalemate looks likely. I'll back Real Madrid and Atlético to draw at 3.75
Roma and Atalanta set for Champions League battle royale
The fourth and final Champions League spot again changed hands this weekend, with Atalanta putting their shock defeat to SPAL behind them in going to Torino and giving the hosts a 7-0 hiding - a result which could have been much worse for Walter Mazzarri's side without the heroics of put-upon goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.
The sheer attacking variety of Gian Piero Gasperini's side, who were Serie A's top scorers even before they went to town on Torino, makes a convincing case for backing them for a second straight top four finish, as does the return from injury of last season's top scorer Duvan Zapata. Yet their result overshadowed the excellence of Roma, their rivals for that fourth spot.
Paulo Fonseca's side were excellent in the Rome derby with Lazio and really should have won. They would have done too, but for a freak equaliser by Francesco Acerbi, handed to him by an uncharacteristic howler by goalkeeper Pau Lopez. Roma remain in fourth spot by a point and though they may not be as eye-catching as Atalanta, have found a toughness and soul under Fonseca's excellent coaching.
You can back Roma to make the top four at 1.60
Werder Bremen looking down nervously
"We were the better team for an hour, but made the wrong decisions in the final third." That was coach Florian Kohfeldt's sum-up of Werder's latest demoralising defeat, by a 3-0 margin in a match that was goalless after 65 minutes.
For an attack-minded coach, the Weserstadion club's current lack of potency asks serious questions of Kohfeldt's continued ability to get his message through. Werder have now lost five of their last six in the Bundesliga and not scored in any of them, with the exception being the 1-0 win at now-bottom side Fortuna Düsseldorf in 2020's first Bundesliga game.
They face a huge match on Saturday at relegation rivals Augsburg, who have begun the new calendar year with successive defeats of their own. Martin Schmidt's side were in good nick before Christmas and have a plethora of attacking threats, which is more than can be said of the 2004 double winners at the moment.