Madrid, March 1 (IANS): Atletico Madrid defender Joan Miranda was clear of the importance of Sunday's derby against Real Madrid here.
"If we want to remain in the race for the title then we have to win this game," said the Brazilian, reports Xinhua.
Real Madrid will travel to the Vicente Calderon with a three-point lead over Atletico. Should they win, it would lift them six points clear and in the context of the La Liga title race, leave them virtually out of sight.
A win for Atletico, however, would change things radically, putting the two sides level on points but lifting Atletico thanks to goal difference.
The past year has seen shifting fortunes in the Madrid derby with Atletico ending last season on a high by beating Real in the Copa del Rey final at the Santiago Bernabeu. Diego Simeone's side repeated the feat with a 1-0 win in La Liga on the Bernabeu earlier this season and went into their Copa del Rey semifinal against Real last month in high spirits.
Those two games saw fortunes shift radically as Real Madrid put their rivals to the sword, 3-0 in the first leg and strolled through the return match 2-0, thanks to two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, both from the penalty spot.
Ronaldo returns to league action after his three-game ban and as he showed in their 6-1 demolition of Schalke 04 in the Champions League, he is clearly in form as are the rest of his teammates.
Although you could question the display of Madrid's German rivals Wednesday, it was impossible to put any doubts over Real Madrid's rapid football where Gareth Bale, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema combined to perfection.
Atletico, meanwhile, enter the derby on the back of probably their worst performance of the season which saw them defeated 0-3 away to Osasuna last weekend. Simeone's side have started to show signs of tiredness, perhaps paying for a squad that lacks the depth to compete on three fronts for the entire season.
One problem appears to be the recent arrival Diego Rivas. The talented Brazilian has struggled to be fit into Simeone's scheme as well as he did in his previous spell at the club where he helped take them to the Europa League title.
His position on the pitch takes some of the intensity out of Atletico's game and the coach must decide whether he puts faith in Diego's skill or the work rate and goals offered by Raul Garcia.