BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barring a quick recovery for Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema or a change of strategy by Atlético Madrid, Sunday’s Spanish capital derby will be played mostly without the rivals’ leading stars.
Benzema is expected to miss the match at Atlético after being sidelined last week with a right leg injury he picked up in the 3-0 win at Celtic in the Champions League.
But the hosts could likewise be without goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who is also injured, while once again it seems likely that forward Antoine Griezmann will be limited to playing the final half hour because of a dispute between Atlético and Barcelona regarding his loan deal.
Madrid arrives to the derby on a roll, picking up from where it finished last season when it won both the European Cup and the Spanish league. Madrid has started the season with eight wins in as many games across all competitions and leads the league.
Atlético has had a lackluster start and enters the game five points behind in seventh place in the Spanish league.
Atlético coach Diego Simeone’s biggest problem, oddly enough, has been created by his own club.
Atlético has apparently asked Simeone to limit the minutes Griezmann plays in an attempt to avoid having to pay Barcelona 40 million euros ($40 million) stipulated in his loan contract if he played more than half the available minutes. Barcelona says that Atlético should already pay the sum after the France forward played more than half the games last season, mostly as a starter for Simeone.
Atlético has a different interpretation of the loan deal that is in its second season. It seemingly is trying to reduce the overall average of Griezmann’s playing time to less than 45 minutes per game by the end of the season.
Atlético club president Enrique Cerezo said his club was not in talks to renegotiate the deal with Barcelona, which has threatened to take its league rival to court.
“I think on the Griezmman issue it is all very clear and everyone knows or imagines what is going on,” Cerezo said Wednesday. “Until this is completely resolved, if indeed there is something to solve, we will remain at this same point.”
Griezmann has produced in his limited role, scoring three goals despite not playing more than 30 minutes in all seven of his appearances. Atlético’s other playmaker, João Félix, has yet to score this season. Álvaro Morata, a former Madrid striker, has also scored three times and will most likely start.
Simeone may also be without his top goalkeeper as Oblak recovers from a knock. Ivo Grbic has taken his place in the last two games: a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo and Tuesday’s 2-0 loss at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.
Madrid has done just fine without Benzema in the two matches he has missed. The team beat Mallorca 4-1 last weekend before topping Leipzig 2-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday.
On Benzema’s chances of playing against Atlético, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said it would depend on him being back in shape to practice before the big game.
“We’ll have to see whether he’s able to train or not in the coming days,” Ancelotti said. “We won’t be risking anything at all. If he trains well on Saturday, he’ll be involved on Sunday.”
Barcelona hosts Elche on Saturday seeking a win that would move it a point ahead of Madrid.
Bayern Munich handed Barcelona its first loss of the season in any competition on Tuesday, 2-0 in Germany. Robert Lewandowski missed clear scoring chances against his former team and will be seeking to rekindle his excellent form after having found the net nine times since arriving in Spain.
Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui is under pressure to get a win at Villarreal on Sunday. Sevilla has only one victory in seven games overall and was held 0-0 at Copenhagen in the Champions League this week, while Villarreal’s only loss came last week.
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