It has been an interesting start to the season in La Liga. Atlético Madrid sit in second, having lost their first match at the weekend to Real Sociedad; while bitter rivals Real Madrid are unbeaten, but sit in third; and Catalan giants, Barcelona, find themselves in fifth position with a mixed bag of results (two wins, one draw, one loss) thus far.
The first big crunch match of the campaign takes place on Saturday 28th September at the Estadio Metropolitano when inter-city rivals, Atléti and Real meet, not only for points on the board but for bragging rights in Spain’s capital. When it comes to football betting odds, the red and white of the capital are third in the pecking order to win the title and aren’t considered favourites ahead of the derby, but Atléti are no underdog.
History may not favour Los Rojiblancos. In the 222 times the Madrid rivals have met in all competitions, Atléti have won just 56, with the same number of games ending in honours even. Look more closely at La Liga and they’ve beaten Real on just 39 occasions, with Los Blancos winning an incredible 87 matches in the division. But looking into their games in recent seasons and more often than not, the two clubs cannot be separated.
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is a happy hunting ground for Atléti, with them unbeaten in La Liga away from home since 2013-14. The last three meetings may have ended in a share of the spoils, but prior to that, it was three successive victories for Diego Simeone’s side. Last season’s clash was by no means a drab affair, but more, a battle of the goalkeepers, with Thibaut Courtois and Jan Oblak playing starring roles to preserve some pride.
However, on home soil, things are very different – and prior to success at home in 2014-15, when they played their games at the Estadio Vicente Calderón, 1998-99 was the last time they tasted success at home; although the club also spent two years in the Segunda División at the turn of the century. As recently as February, Atléti were humbled by their rivals, who in turn leapfrogged them in the table. A lacklustre side lacking in discipline is how they were described, losing 3-1 and ending the match with 10 men after Thomas Partey received a second yellow late on.
In the close season, the two met, with Atléti the beneficiaries of a 7-3 score-line. Much was made of transfers in and out of Spain’s top-flight, with Atléti losing frontman Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona and Real gaining Eden Hazard from Chelsea. It was a chance for new stars to settle and show what they’re made of ahead of the current campaign. But of course, like any derby, it was a fight for blood and Atléti were the thirstier. Winning by a four-goal margin in any competition is impressive, but scoring seven goals is another thing. In fact, Los Rojiblancos took a five-goal lead in at the break, with new signing João Félix (from Benfica) opening the scoring, before going on to set-up two goals. Former Tottenham Hotspur right-back, Kieran Trippier also made the starting eleven; while Real started with two of their new big-guns in Hazard and Luka Jovic.
It seems this victory has set the tone for the start of the season. Real have started sluggishly and lacked discipline, as two red cards in three games can attest; but one where Atléti have been clinical in their finishing, winning three of their four opening matches – even if by slender (some might say, lucky) margins.
When the two meet in the capital on the 28th, they’ll know what to expect, having met outside of domestic competition. To some, El Derbi Madrileño is bigger than El Clásico, with more than pride at stake. Los Blancos have come third in the division over the last two seasons and will more than likely be hurting, knowing their two rivals have been ahead of them – however, the gulf between first and second is huge. While Atléti have been knocking on the door, they were last crowned champions in 2014, but need to step it up, if they wish to challenge – or even make it an eleventh title. The game is sure to live up to everything that is expected in a derby game, but based on current form, Los Rojiblancos surely have it in the bag – even if their home form in El Derbi Madrileño isn’t much to be desired.