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Ronaldo back from suspension as Real visit Atletico

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Real Madrid head into the fourth Madrid derby
of the season at Atletico on Sunday following
their 6-1 thrashing of Schalke in the Champions
League and buoyed by the return of Cristiano
Ronaldo.
After losing 1-0 at home to Atletico in La Liga back in September,
Real gained revenge over their local rivals with a comprehensive
5-0 aggregate win in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey earlier this
month.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men have also usurped Atletico in the league in
recent weeks.
Los Rojiblancos’ shock defeats to Almeria and Osasuna have allowed
Real to open up a three-point lead over both Atletico and Barcelona
at the top of the table.
Real will be further boosted by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to
league action after the Ballon d’Or winner missed his side’s last three
domestic games for his red card and dissent shown in their 1-1 draw
away to Athletic Bilbao on February 2.
The Portuguese captain returned in customary fashion, scoring twice
as Real all but secured their place in the last eight of the Champions
League with their demolition of Schalke, and he is looking to channel
his frustration at the length of the ban to good effect this weekend.
“What’s done is done. I am frustrated about it because what I did
wasn’t deserving of a three-game ban, but I am happy to return and
score two goals,” he said.
“We are motivated for the derby, we are Real Madrid and we will
give everything to win.”
Atletico, meanwhile, should be refreshed by a rare midweek off as
they aim to put a run of four defeats in six games behind them.
Midfielder Koke recognised the task that faces his side at the Vicente
Calderon, but insisted that even in Real’s current form no side is
invincible.
“You always like to play against Madrid, above all if you can beat
them. It is a derby, which is always a special game,” he told the club’s
website.
“No one is invincible in this world. Defensively they are very good
and in attack they have important players with excellent individual
skills. We are facing a great team and we will try to do everything
as best we can. It will be a great game.”
With one or both sides from the capital set to drop points, Barcelona
can take advantage when they host Almeria at the Camp Nou on
Sunday.
The Catalans were also blown away last weekend when they lost
3-1 at Real Sociedad to finish the weekend behind Real Madrid for
the first time since 2012.
However, with Barca still to face Real at the Santiago Bernabeu
on March 23, Cesc Fabregas believes his side are still capable of
retaining their title.
“We are the first ones to know that we didn’t play well. We lacked
mobility, intensity and precision, which are vital things in modern day
football,” the midfielder said.
“We have analysed it, we know where we failed and now we have
to recover all that we lost there.
“It is in our own hands. I believe a lot in this squad and these players,
as much for what they have done in the past as their present. We are
ready to do something great this season.”
Fabregas and Xavi are expected to be recalled to the side after they
were controversially rested by coach Gerardo Martino against
Sociedad.
Javier Mascherano will also return to the heart of the defence
alongside Marc Bartra as Gerard Pique faces a brief spell on the
sidelines due to a calf injury.

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