Ex-Atletico Madrid coach Radomir Antic believes the derby against Real Madrid could be coming at the ideal time for Diego Simeone’s side.
Madrid lead the way in LaLiga as they prepare to make the short trip to the Vicente Calderon on Saturday but they have fitness concerns over a number of key personnel.
Luka Modric is expected to start in midfield despite building fitness on his return from a knee injury, while Toni Kroos is out with a broken foot.
Defensive midfielder Casemiro (fibula) and captain Sergio Ramos (knee) are pushing for returns having not played since September and Antic believes this is not an ideal scenario for Bernabeu boss Zinedine Zidane.
“Real Madrid don’t have the time to prepare for this derby,” Antic, who also coached Madrid in the early 1990s, told Omnisport. “Most of the players were away with their national sides.
“Secondly, it’s a major inconvenience for Real Madrid – the fact that they have players that have just returned from injury.
“Players like Sergio Ramos, Casemiro, Luka Modric have already returned and have only played few minutes, but he [Modric] is not fully fit yet.
“Kroos’ absence will be another new problem as they don’t have a similar player able to cover his spot. That’s why I think that in this precise moment Real Madrid – despite being leaders – have many questions marks around them.”
There were similar questions surrounding Atletico’s star forward Antoine Griezmann after he suffered a bruised foot on international duty, but the Ballon d’Or nominee appeared to make good on his pledge to be fit for the cross-city showdown by playing a full part in a Thursday training session with Simeone’s squad.
“Griezmann’s career is developing amazingly,” said Antic. “From being a substitute he’s turned into a key player in both the French national side and also with Atletico.
“He’s having a great season. Last season he scored 20 goals and this year he is following the same path.”
Atletico’s title challenge has stuttered over recent weeks with defeats to Sevilla and Griezmann’s former employers Real Sociedad.
Although Antic concedes their current form is a concern, the 1995-96 double-winner believes Atletico have the ideal man at the helm in one of his former players to get them back on course.
“This is the worst LaLiga start Simeone has had in charge of Atletico,” he added.
“Being six points adrift of Real Madrid at this stage of the season in the fourth spot, it doesn’t really match the expectations that we had ahead of the season, especially after the investment they made.
“Simeone does not only perfectly control what happens on the pitch, but also off the pitch. He knows how to communicate messages in the right way so they reach the right people. He’s become one of the best coaches in the world.”
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