Madrid derby a chance for Atletico to get respect
More than a third through the Spanish La Liga season and still nobody is talking about Atletico Madrid as a legitimate title contender despite the fact that they sit only three points behind leaders Barcelona. It should be noted that Barça are off to the best ever start to a Spanish league season, meaning that any other year Atletico would likely be topping the table at this point.
The numbers speak for themselves. Atletico has 11 wins, one draw and a single loss in 13 games. Superlative in any league, anywhere. Atletico boasts what many consider the best pure striker in the world in Colombian Radamel Falcao and a defense which has given up the third fewest goals so far this year (only 11, just two behind the stingiest defense at Malaga).
And it’s not like Atletico hasn’t any recent pedigree to warrant consideration. They won the Europa League last year and the UEFA Super Cup already this year.
But still, no soccer pundits are giving the Colchoneros even a puncher’s chance at finishing the season in top spot. There are reasons, of course. Barcelona and Real Madrid have dominated the league over the past decade; with Valencia the last team to win it in 2002/2003 (Atletico last won in 1995/1996 when current coach Diego Pablo Simeone was still playing).
Beyond history, the current rosters of the big two seem to be far superior to Atletico’s. Truth be told, Falcao is the only player who could start for Barcelona or Real, and even that is not a given.
There is an undeniable lack of respect afforded Atletico. But that seems to be working in the team’s favor, at least so far. Simeone has nary had to deal with a favorite tag. Until, that is, this weekend. Going into the Madrid derby, Simeone was asked if he felt his team was the favorite. Of course, he answered in the negative, but Falcao showed some verve when he said they would step onto the pitch looking for all three points.
While the quiet and modest approach has worked in its favor so far, it’s high time that Atletico announces its intentions as a contender this weekend. There can be no better showcase to prove to La Liga and the rest of the world that Atletico is for real than a date with Real at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Atletico is coming in flying, with a 4-0 thrashing of Sevilla last week, while Madrid is quickly approaching panic mode, with a loss to Betis a week ago and rumors starting to fly about Jose Mourinho’s future prospects.
Beating the Merengues anywhere, much less at home is the tallest of orders as Atletico readily know. They haven’t done so in more than 13 years. Not even mighty Barcelona was able to do so in their last two meetings.
Getting one over on Real this Saturday would simultaneously force the world to look at Simeone’s bunch as the real deal while also applying the death knell to Madrid’s league hopes. They are already 11 points back of Barcelona and 8 of Atletico. Another three points dropped and they will resign themselves completely to the pursuit of a 10th Champions League trophy, if they haven’t already.
Should Atletico lose, however, and everyone's lack of respect will be somewhat vindicated. And that would be a pity in a league that could use some new blood at the top of the table.