Ronaldo and Griezmann have points to prove
Ronaldo and Griezmann have points to prove
Early season struggles have left both sides eight points adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona and four points back on a revitalized Valencia.
Twice finalists in the past four seasons, Atletico also look set for an embarassing group-stage exit in the Champions League, while Real also suffered their first group-stage defeat for five years to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, although they should still progress to the last 16.
A large part in the downfall of both sides of the Madrid divide has been the poor form of their normally reliant source of goals in Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann.
The two went head-to-head for the Ballon d’Or last year after Real and Ronaldo’s Portugal edged out Atletico and Griezmann’s France in the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals respectively.
However, Ronaldo has scored just once in seven La Liga appearances so far this season despite having 48 shots on goal.
“It’s not my fault if (the ball) does not want to go in,” Ronaldo told French sports newspaper L’Equipe on Thursday. “People look at me like a goal machine, like a guy who has to score all the time.”
However, Ronaldo’s restlessness on the field has been mirrored by rising tension off it with more Madrid-based sports daily Marca reporting on his fractious relationship with Real captain Sergio Ramos this week.
After the 3-1 defeat at Wembley to Spurs, Ronaldo admitted that the Madrid squad that delivered a first La Liga and Champions League double for 59 years last season had been weakened by the departures of Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez among others. Ramos later described those comments as “opportunisitic.”
Griezmann's commitment has also been questioned despite the Frenchman turning his back on a move away from Spain to sign a new deal with Atletico just five months ago.
“Whoever doesn’t want to be here should leave,” Atletico midfielder Koke said on Thursday. Koke’s return after a month out through injury should at least inject some creativity back into an Atletico side badly lacking a spark.
Griemzann hasn’t scored in his last seven Atletico games and was even substituted by Diego Simeone before Thomas Partey’s injury-time strike ground out a 1-0 win at Deportivo la Coruna two weeks ago. “Compared to previous years it is different," admitted Griezmann.
“We have a new stadium, we are struggling to score goals and win games. At the back we are fine, we just need a bit of luck up front.”
Atletico’s slow adaptation to the 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropoli-tano has played its part in their struggles as Simeone’s men have failed to win any of their last four games at home in all competitions. As well as Koke’s return, Yannick Carrasco is fit again for Atletico.
Real, by contrast, are still riddled with injuries with Gareth Bale ruled out for another month and doubts over Isco, Dani Carvajal, Keylor Navas and Mateo Kovacic.
Barcelona are also in action in Madrid today and can open up a seven-point lead at the top when they travel to Leganes.
Valencia will look to maintain the chase and continue a club record run of seven straight La Liga wins ahead of their top-of-the-table clash with Barca next weekend when they travel to Espanyol tomorrow.
• Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid, 10:45 p.m. kick-off
Virat Kohli century leaves England facing big task to win 3rd test
NOTTINGHAM: India captain Virat Kohli kept up his brilliant summer form by hitting 103 before setting England a world-record target of 521 to win the third Test and clinch the series with two matches to spare.
Nine overs into its run chase, England reached 23-0 at stumps and still needed 498 runs to complete what would be a highly improbable victory at Trent Bridge.
The highest successful run chase in test history is 418, by West Indies against Australia in 2003.
England lead the five-match series 2-0.
Kohli has scored twice as many runs as any other player this series, with his 23rd test century adding to the 97 from the first innings to take his series average to 73.33. He made 149 in the first test at Edgbaston, and is in line to return to the top of the test batting rankings above Australia’s Steve Smith.
A day after taking 5-28, Hardik Pandya smashed an unbeaten 52 off 52 balls before India declared on 352-7 late on day three. Cheteshwar Pujara, resuming overnight alongside Kohli with India on 124-2, earlier made 72 after being dropped on 40 by Alastair Cook in the slips.
Cook (9) and Keaton Jennings (13) survived a testing spell before the close to take the target below 500. The pitch still looks good for batting, but India remains the heavy favorite.
“The pitch has quickened up a bit,” Pujara said. “It is a lot quicker and there is a lot of deviation. On day four, it won’t be easy for them to bat.”
England’s faint chances of avoiding defeat in Nottingham were hit during the first session of the day when wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow broke a bone in the middle finger of his left hand attempting to take a catch.
Bairstow didn’t return to the field — Jos Buttler took over wicketkeeping duties — and England didn’t give an indication of whether Bairstow will be asked to bat in the team’s second innings.
“Although we are a long way behind,” England assistant coach Paul Farbrace said, “we showed real effort and it was important not to lose any wickets this evening.”