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Football | Spain

Jose Mourinho with Xavi Alonso and Iker Casillas © Reuters Images

All systems go for Madrid derby



Thirteen years is a long time in football - just ask Atletico Madrid who have not beaten their illustrious neighbours Real in a Madrid derby since 1999.

Now they may have another chance as not since that win 13 years ago have Atletico come into the derby above Real in La Liga, and in such vibrant form.

Diego Simeone's team are the only side to have kept pace with leaders Barcelona, who have made the best start ever. They are in second place, just three points behind Barca - and eight above third-placed Real.

Simeone fielded a team of reserves on Wednesday against third division Jaen in the cup and was pleased with the 1-0 win.

"What makes me happy," he said, "is the way we are playing this season, with committment and intensity."

Simeone refused to talk about Saturday's derby, beyond saying he hoped Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois would recover from a heavy cold.

Real have more injury worries than Atletico, with South Americans Marcelo and Gonzalo Higuain both still out.

Anything less than a convincing win for Real on Saturday against the crosstown rivals might cause the Estadio Bernabeu faithful to explode against coach Jose Mourinho, who is not flavour of the month in Madrid at the moment.

The Marca sports daily said this week that Mourinho was poised to join Paris St Germain at the end of the season, and an online poll showed that only 31 per cent of readers thought he would continue at Real next season.

The Portuguese coach was booed by some sections of the Bernabeu crowd in Tuesday's 3-0 cup defeat of minnows Alcoyano.

However, Espanyol's sacking of Mauricio Pochettino on Monday meant that Mourinho was the longest lasting coach in La Liga, having survived at Real for two and a half year turbulent years now.

Real keeper Iker Casillas - not one of Mourinho's closest friends, by all accounts - stood up for the coach on Wednesday.

"Maybe some people are being unfair with him. In the dresssing-room we are a hundred per cent behind him. He has given us many things in these years," Casillas said.

Also on Saturday, Barca will receive Athletic Bilbao, without injury victims Dabi Alves and Alexis Sanchez, but with Adriano and Thiago and fit again.

Saturday's other games are Getafe v fourth-placed Malaga and Valencia v Real Sociedad.

Sunday will see Mexican coach Javier Aguirre make his debut on the Espanyol bench away to Granada. Espanyol are rock bottom and in urgent need of points.

Sunday's other games are Deportivo Coruna v Betis, Celta Vigo v Levante and Mallorca v Zaragoza.

The 14th round of games will begin on Friday with Osasuna at home to Rayo Vallecano, and will finish on Monday with Sevilla against Valladolid.

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