It's been a pretty good week for Diego Simeone. After kick-starting their season by winning at Monaco in the Champions League just over a week ago (probably a bit of a placebo given the current fettle of Leonardo Jardim's side, but one that appears to be doing the trick) Atlético Madrid have won their two since in La Liga. Winning at a tough Getafe side last weekend was impressive ahead of Tuesday night's brushing aside of promoted Huesca at the Wanda Metropolitano.
In the meantime Barcelona have shelled five points, a stumble capped by their midweek loss at bottom side Leganès, just before Real Madrid were soundly thumped at Sevilla, where they finished with 10 men after Marcelo's late injury. Los Rojiblancos are just two points from the top and nicely set for their derby at the Bernabéu on Saturday night.
Good week for Atleti, not for El Real
El Real, who had looked so confident in their post-Cristiano world, have managed just a single goal in their last two La Liga games combined. Meanwhile Simeone's Atleti have gone goal crazy. Not in a Sevilla, 14-goals-in-three-games kind of way - but by their own standards, seven in their three matches this week is a good haul, especially when you consider the stodginess of their start to the season.
So it is Atleti, you might presume, that are in the driving seat ahead of the derby. The market could certainly tempt you into backing Simeone and company, with Real Madrid short at 2.166/5 , and the visitors out at 3.814/5, with Los Merengues always favoured at home. Simeone's men have certainly looked like their old selves in recent games, being tough to break down and with new signings led by Thomas Lemar already looking at home in the team's shape and work ethic.
Simeone's tactical stagnation
Maybe that's the problem. Every season we talk about the need for Atleti to evolve, to develop, to become slightly more expansive. Even Simeone himself recognised the need for his team to find a way out of the tactical cul-de-sac of their own making towards the end of last season.
Yet here we are, with Atleti doing what they always do in recent seasons, committing but not really knowing where they're going or how they will get there, playing with purpose but not with a purpose. A share of the Liga leadership could even theoretically be theirs if they come and get it (and if Barcelona slip up earlier in the day against Athletic Bilbao), but do they have it in them to wrest the game from Julen Lopetegui and company?
Can Atlético step up?
Recent history would suggest not. In the first Madrid derby in La Liga last season, both teams were suffocated - seemingly - by thoughts of how bad losing would be. Later, in spring, when Atleti got themselves within striking distance of Barça, they went to Camp Nou and didn't really start playing until they were a goal down.
This time, Simeone must instil his side with the bravery and the imagination to seize their opportunity. It's a mental block as much as a tactical one, with the coach still talking his team up as underdogs at every opportunity. Lemar has won praise for adapting to his new team's ways which says a lot about their mindset. Surely it should be at least partly the other way around, with the young Frenchman using his qualities to give the team more strings to their bow.
Atleti need to adapt, and the derby would be the perfect stage to prove that there are absorbing that. It's the only way they will win the right to be considered as genuine title challengers, rather than merely a team that can make life uncomfortable for the elite two.