Barcelona could be 11 points clear of the loser in the Madrid derby, a result that will all but end their title hopes, and we are not even into November.
It is not just Zinedine Zidane and Diego Simeone who are under pressure in the first derby to be played in Atletico’s new stadium.
The talisman for both clubs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann, have had terrible starts to the season. Ronaldo has scored only one goal in seven league games and Griezmann has just two goals in nine.
The Portuguese star is rumoured to have told his club that he wants to leave at the end of the season, and while Griezmann may have made no such declaration, few at his club believe he will stay beyond next summer.
All eyes will be on both players on Saturday night. Ronaldo sulked through the closing stages of Madrid’s last league game and Griezmann never even made it to full time in his because, not for the first time this season, he was taken off by his manager.
‘We don’t really have anyone who can decide games single-handedly,’ said Simeone recently. Atletico’s French forward ought to have that quote plastered above his locker before the game – he used to be exactly that man and you can bet Simeone said it to shock his star back into life.
Ronaldo meanwhile will be thinking back to how he terrorised Atletico last season. He scored a hat-trick against them in the last ever derby in the Vicente Calderon and he also got three against them in the first leg of the two teams’ Champions League semi-final.
He told L’Equipe this week that as well as wanting seven children he wants a few more Balons d’Or. No better place to start celebrating winning the 2017 one than in the second biggest fixture in La Liga.
He has scored 21 goals against Atletico in his time at Real. Only Sevilla, who have conceded 25 of his goals, have conceded more.
Zidane’s team selection centres on who plays in midfield alongside Isco, Casemiro and Toni Kroos. Luka Modric would be the usual pick up but he has been busy making sure Croatia qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia and may well be rested.
That perhaps means that Real Madrid’s top scorer Marco Asensio comes in but there is a third option. Dani Ceballos scored a hat-trick for Spain Under-21s and has looked good for Madrid in limited starts since arriving from Betis at the start of the season.
For Atletico the problem this season has been who partners Griezmann and it may be that on Saturday no one does. Simeone is contemplating a five-man midfield of Gabi, Saul, Angel Correa, Thomas Partey and Koke, all with a licence to get forward and support the lone forward when they can.
Both coaches have big calls to make because both have had their decision making called into question this season. One should be smiling come Saturday night – and the chances are it will because their star man has finally stirred.