Atleti's aerial prowess still a concern for Real Madrid ahead of derby

Atletico Madrid may have lost goalscoring battering ram Diego Costa over the summer but, as Paul Wilkes explains, they still pack a physical punch in the oppositon penalty area. Carlo Ancelotti take note...

Atletico Madrid stormed their way to the Primera Division title last term with their blend of high pressing and positional discipline aided by fast-paced counter-attacks and a physical approach.

Under manager Diego Simeone they have become a difficult opponent for any team, and the Argentine has built a squad with a strong mentality that knows exactly how to exert controlled aggression on the field.

Unfortunately, Simeone's own temper can sometimes get the better of him, as highlighted by his antics the last time his team met their cross-town rivals. El Cholo was sent off for tapping the linesman on the back of the head in the second leg of the Supercopa against Real Madrid, although he had been gesticulating towards the assistant referee continuously beforehand.

He was handed an eight-match ban for the incident, which certainly seems more than a little excessive given Jose Mourinho only received a two-match sanction for poking Tito Vilanova in the eye back in 2011 - a punishment that was later rescinded.

The suspension means Simeone won't be orchestrating proceedings from the touchline during the Madrid derby on Saturday evening, and he won't be able to influence the game directly once the match begins.

Hit where it hurts

However, he will have already drilled his team to maintain their shape and exploit space in the attacking third of the pitch, not to mention another area in which his team excel - aerial balls into the opposition penalty box, particularly from set-pieces.

Obviously a huge part of this is down to the delivery of midfielders Koke and Gabi, who together contributed 21 assists in last season's championship-winning campaign.

Last term, Los Rojiblancos scored 18 goals from dead-ball situations, and 10 of their last 13 goals in La Liga have been headers - this includes two in the previous game, a 2-1 win over Eibar.

In that match, Miranda powered in Gabi's diagonal ball from a free-kick, before a corner from Koke was nodded in from close range by new signing Mario Mandzukic. Going into this weekend's matches, the Croatian has scored more headed goals than any other player in Europe's top five leagues since the start of the 2013/14 season.

His character may not have been a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, but he still managed to score 18 goals in the Bundesliga for the German champions last year. "With his ability to head the ball inside the penalty area, Mandzukic is the best forward in the world," proclaimed Guardiola last October.

Their relationship turned sour towards the end of the season, and when Mandzukic was left out of the German Cup final win over Borussia Dortmund he admitted: "Let's be honest, I cannot play to my strengths under Guardiola's style - no matter how hard I try.

"I realised that after the 1-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first leg, and that being the case, it's best for all parties that we go our separate ways."

Simeone's tactics are made for the striker, and it's already evident in his early displays.

Airborne division

When the club purchased another forward, Raul Jimenez, in August, sporting director Jose Luis Caminero commented that the Mexican "will complete our attacking line-up" and "stands out for his aerial ability".

It appears the club has been actively trying to improve in this area, despite already out-performing many of their peers. The majority of the squad is 5ft 9in plus in height, and they possess a threat in the air throughout. It's expected of centre-backs Diego Godin and Miranda, but even Raul Garcia and Antoine Griezmann can cause significant damage in this department.

At Real Sociedad last year, Griezmann scored five goals with his head and another two from rebounds where the opposition goalkeeper had saved his initial header. It's in the last 12 months that he has added the trait of not only evading his marker, but getting himself into the danger area on the blind side of centre-backs.

Old habits

Real Madrid, meanwhile, have struggled to deal with set-pieces since the Mourinho days. Spanish newspaper Marca infamously revealed the transcript of a conversation between the Portuguese manager and defender Sergio Ramos, as the pair argued about the 2010 World Cup winner's involvement in conceding a goal from one particular dead ball.

Mourinho complained that he should have been marking the goalscorer, while Ramos retorted: "Depending on the situation in the game, sometimes you have to change the marking. Because you've never been a player, you don't know this sometimes happens."

Under Carlo Ancelotti the problem persists, with Ramos, Iker Casillas and Pepe all still fragile post-Brazil and failing to defend resolutely against Real Sociedad, as Los Blancos let a two-goal lead slip.

Simeone will know full well that this is a situation upon which he can capitalise, and impact the match even though he won't be in the dugout.