El Clàsico between Real Madrid and Barcelona is undoubtedly the biggest game in Spanish, and arguably European, football. The Madrid derby between Real and cross-town rivals Atlético has been largely defunct due to Los Blancos’ superiority over the years. However, with Diego Simeone leading a revolution at the Vicente Calderón, Atleti’s title credentials are set to be put to the test today as they make the short but ominous trip to Santiago Bernabéu.
Not since Atlético’s historic 1995-96 La Liga title success have the red and white side of the Spanish capital finished higher than their illustrious neighbours domestically. Simeone was a key player in that remarkable success, and the Argentine has now been charged with the tough task of breaking up the Clàsico pairing at the summit of Spanish football.
Since Atleti’s title success, it has largely been despair for the club. Relegation and two seasons in the Segunda División was the lowest point, while the club have mostly been a mid-table side. Up until last season, the best return that Los Colchoneros have recorded was fourth place.
The club’s fans have seen top players such as Fernando Torres and Sergio Agüero grace the Vicente Calderón only to leave, and Atlético have had to live in Real’s shadow.
However, with the return of Simeone, the ambitious Atlético are seemingly back as challengers. A third-placed finish last term and the Champions League football it brings with it was an overwhelming success. Add to that Copa del Rey success, beating Real in the final, as the icing on top of the cake.
Despite the Copa del Rey success, Atlético’s head-to-head record against their local rivals in recent times is abhorrent. The Santiago Bernabéu side had won the ten meetings prior to the final between the teams in all competitions. In fact, Madrid have won 20 out of the last 25 meetings between the sides, with five draws.
To highlight the task that Atlético face today and the magnitude of the Copa del Rey victory, you have to go back 14 years to June 1999 to find the last time that the side in red and white beat their bitter rivals.
The signs that Atlético will be competitive at least are there for all to be seen however, as Simeone’s men have started this season superbly. Six wins from six La Liga games shows that Atleti are ready to be taken seriously, and certainly will be no pushover this evening.
The side have been in freescoring form despite the summer departure of Radamel Falcao, hitting the back of the net 18 times and conceding only five times. With all respect to the teams that Atleti have beaten, today’s clash will be a real acid test to just how far Simeone’s men can go this term.
Madrid are also unbeaten, and sit two points behind Atlético after five wins from six games. World record signing Gareth Bale looks set to make his home debut in the derby clash, while Cristiano Ronaldo has continued where he left off last term with six goals already.
Despite Carlo Ancelotti’s star-studded contingent, Atlético have a few superstars of their own ready to prove their worth.
Thibaut Courtois is on loan at Vicente Calderón for the third consecutive season, and continues to impress – the Belgian may be busy in the derby. Midfielder Raúl Garcia has four goals from four games and has seen his influence in the side increase, while Turkey international Arda Turan is a superstar able to decide the game in his side’s favour.
In attack ex-Barcelona star David Villa will resume his rivalry his Real, while in Diego Costa Atlético have a man in form. The Brazilian has seven goals this season so far, after a summer of being linked with a move away from the club. So good is his start to the campaign, Spain are reportedly looking into the potential of the never-capped South American representing the Iberian nation with La Roja.
With the wealth of talent and comprehensive superiority that Real have had over their rivals in recent times, the hosts will go into the Santiago Bernabéu clash as overwhelming favourites. However, Atlético have as good a chance as in many-a-year to upset their famous rivals and state their claim as La Liga title contenders.