Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid: Why Morata deserves a chance in decisive derby

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There is almost no doubt that Alvaro Morata will be back on the bench when Real Madrid meet Atletico Madrid on Saturday. There is no doubt at all that he deserves much better.

Zinedine Zidane called on the striker for the short trip to Leganes as he chose to rest Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. There was no small amount of pressure on him to perform in the absence of the 'BBC', especially after Barcelona had just battered Sevilla to move back to the top of LaLiga.

As he has so often this season, Morata responded. Whether or not he scored a hat-trick is up for debate - Madrid, at least, insist he should be credited with a third goal that deflected in off Martin Mantovani - but his impact was beyond a doubt. Madrid would not have won 4-2, and would not be top of the table, without him.

And yet, it would require injury problems or a major change of heart from Zidane for Morata to start the derby at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo - hat-trick hero of the reverse fixture in November - will, of course, return; Benzema, his favourite side-kick, will lead the line. Bale will more than likely be deemed fit enough to line up on the right of the attack, or in a wide midfield role, as he did to great effect at the Vicente Calderon.

There's just no room for Morata - and that's why the boyhood Madridista, who should be at the heart of this weekend's potentially pivotal derby, could leave the club for the second time in his career this year.

Speculation around a move to Chelsea refuses to go away, even though Morata has insisted that Antonio Conte has not been in touch and stressed this week: "I feel good at Real Madrid and that is the important thing. I'm getting goals, I feel important and I have to keep it that way."

His heart is in the capital, but he can be forgiven for thinking that his career might be best served elsewhere - especially as president Florentino Perez looks determined to land a (likely attack-minded) Galactico in the off-season to bolster his election hopes.

Morata deserves to be more than third-choice; you need only look at Wednesday's game to see why. Regardless of whether his treble should stand, it was a record-breaking outing for the Spain international.

He has reached double figures for league goals in a single season for the first time. He has scored, hat-trick included, 16 goals in all competitions - one more than the personal best he set with Juventus in 2014-15. He has made 35 Madrid appearances in all competitions, one more than he managed in 2013-14. 

He's out-scored Benzema in the league, despite making three fewer appearances, and has needed far fewer minutes on the pitch (1,503, compared to Benzema's 2,424) to reach his tally in all competitions.

The timing of his goals has been similarly impressive. Late winners against Sporting CP, Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal have all helped Madrid keep up their quest for a double, while he also scored in one-goal wins over Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna.

His impact when called upon has not escaped Zidane's attention. Speaking after the 3-2 win over Villarreal, he conceded there was "no doubt" that Morata merited more game time and highlighted his usefulness in offering Madrid an escape route in close encounters.

Speaking on Friday, though, the coach was disinclined to offer any guarantees over Morata's place.

"Every game is important, the other day in Leganes was an important game and Alvaro played very well," he said. "We're going to keep going like this with all the different players."

There is a good chance that Morata's rescue act will be needed again if Zidane is to enjoy a win in his 50th league game in charge. Atleti's defence is looking redoubtable once more after a shaky spell, with Diego Simeone's side conceding just once in their last six games in all competitions.

But Morata's work rate, his passion for the club and - most importantly - his form all point to a player who deserves to be much more than a going-for-broke impact sub on derby day. And in a Madrid squad short on local talent, nobody would be more disappointed to miss out on a starting spot than him.

 

THE UNSTOPPABLE FORCE MEETS THE IMMOVABLE OBJECT

Last November's resounding win at the Calderon saw Ronaldo become the derby's greatest goalscorer, but it was a glimmer of joy in what has been a difficult recent run for Madrid against their neighbours.

With Opta's help, we look at some of the key stats ahead of a showdown - including those that point to a fascinating meeting of free-scoring attack and indomitable defence...

86 - Real Madrid have beaten Atletico on more occasions than any other team in LaLiga history (86).
12 - However, Madrid have only won two of their last 12 games against Atletico in all competitions (D5 L5 - excluding Champions League final penalty shootout).
3 - Atleti are the only side in LaLiga history to have won at Santiago Bernabeu on three consecutive trips. Madrid have not won against Atletico in any of their previous three league home games and have never gone four in succession without a win.
4 - Diego Simeone has won more games against Madrid at the Bernabeu than any other Atletico boss (four in all competitions).
41 - Real Madrid have scored in 41 consecutive games in LaLiga, their best ever run in the competition. In fact, Zidane's side haven't been shut out in a game in LaLiga since Atletico's last visit to Bernabeu - 0-1 on February 27, 2016.
1 - Atletico are the only side to have kept a clean sheet away from home against Madrid under Zinedine Zidane (in all competitions).
14 - Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals against Atletico under Simeone than any other player (14 - all competitions).
2 - Antoine Griezmann has scored in two of his last three games in LaLiga at the Bernabeu (once for Atleti, once for Real Sociedad).