After both teams staved off the prospect of elimination from the Champions League, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are now ready to face each other in a crucial La Liga encounter.
The Spanish rivals meet on Saturday at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in a match that could prove key in the title race, with Atletico scenting the opportunity to twist the knife into their usually pre-eminent cross-city rivals.
Atletico can open a nine-point gap on fourth-placed Madrid, leaving the defending champions in a really difficult position to repeat for the first time in more than decade.
Both teams were in danger of being eliminated in the Champions League on Wednesday, but Madrid pulled through with a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in Group B while Atletico advanced with a 2-0 victory at Salzburg in Group A.
“The players showed their character from start to finish. This team has this ability to show its worth during difficult times,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.
“We have to enjoy the moment but we also need to rest because we have another match on Saturday.”
Madrid were winless in three straight league games before edging Sevilla 1-0 on Saturday to remain in fourth place with 20 points from 11 matches.
Atletico, with 26 points from 10 matches, are the only unbeaten team in the league this season, having won their last seven games in the competition.
Atletico will be trying to win eight in a row for the first time since they won nine straight in 2014, the year they won their last league title.
“I don’t consider this a final because there so many matches yet to be played,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “Madrid will always be contending.”
Madrid have not lost to Atletico in eight consecutive league games, with three wins and five draws since 2016.
Meanwhile, struggling Barcelona host relegation-threatened Levante on Sunday looking to rebound from two consecutive setbacks – a 3-0 home loss to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday and a 2-1 defeat at Cadiz in the Spanish league on Saturday.
The Catalan club are ninth in the standings after 10 matches, trailing Real Madrid by six points and Atletico by 12.
“We are not where we want to be but we have some matches ahead in which we can recover some of the points that we’ve lost,” Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen said.
“That’s our goal for these next weeks.”