Real Madrid will face bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for the Spanish Supercup Final, and they have received a bit of a reprieve with star midfielder Koke out due to injury.
On Wednesday, Real Madrid absolutely owned Valencia in a 3-0 win, fully bouncing back from dropping points at the Mestalla in December in a game they could have easily lost without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ heroics.
But in the Spanish Supercup semifinal, Real controlled midfield with a completely different tactical approach from Zinedine Zidane that paid off handsomely. Fede Valverde shined again, while Toni Kroos, Isco, and Luka Modric scored great individual goals to cap off a truly dominant display.
Having similar success with controlling possession – but doing so with a purpose – isn’t easy against Diego Simeone’s stingy Atletico Madrid, but Real Madrid have an increased chance of ruling their crosstown rivals on Sunday.
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That’s because star center midfielder Koke, who scored Atleti’s first goal in their 3-2 semifinal triumph over FC Barcelona, will be out with an injury. He suffered the injury later in that semifinal win and had to be subbed out in the 72nd minute for former Real midfielder Marco Llorente.
Koke’s injury is a huge blow for Atleti. He is the team’s most prolific passer, leading Los Rojiblancos, per WhoScored.com, in both overall passes per game and key passes per game.
The 28-year-old is a crucial source of chances created on a team whose attackers are starved of service, as only Alvaro Morata (7) and Angelo Correa (3) have more than two goals in league play.
Furthermore, Koke’s injury greatly impacts how Atleti build up play and control midfield against an elite Real Madrid unit. Thomas Partey and Koke have done a great job of holding down the fort in midfield, but Koke’s injury will bring in Hector Herrera as the pivot next to Partey. And Herrera could easily be exposed.
Los Blancos will likely start Valverde, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric in midfield, giving Zidane four of the world’s best. This quartet of midfielders can close down defenders when pressing, stifle any creativity in midfield, and play deadly balls amongst each other before feeding Luka Jovic.
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Without Koke, Atleti are ripe for being picked apart. This injury is a massive blow to Atleti’s hopes of winning the Spanish Supercup, while it plays right into Real’s biggest strengths in the middle of the park. And with each passing week, the Real midfield seems to only get more impervious.