As last weekend’s round of La Liga games drew to a climax, there was a realisation in Madrid, a realisation which had probably occurred quite a few times but right now seems absolutely pertinent. A realisation that Barcelona are quite simply too good to compete with as Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid lie eight and nine points respectively behind the world champions.
Perhaps as one battle comes to an end, however, another commences. The Madrid derby on Saturday will be an opportunity for the sides to stake their claim for a second-place finish and, therefore, as the best team in Spain’s capital.
Publicly, both clubs will not accept defeat in the title race. This is obligatory, though, in order for both teams not to become disheartened and end the season in a bad form. Firstly, after Los Blancos’ 1-1 draw at Malaga, with the newspapers proclaiming, ‘The League gets away,’ in AS and ‘Game over,’ in Mundo Deportivo, Zinedine Zidane came out fighting.
“We haven’t said goodbye to the League at all, although it’s more difficult now,” the Frenchman said after the game. “We’ll never drop our heads because there are still many points at stake.”
Meanwhile, Atleti President Enrique Cerezo was the one asking for perseverance following his club’s 0-0 draw with Villarreal at the Vicente Calderon, which meant that they fell a further two points behind Barca.
“We’ll continue fighting while it’s mathematically still possible. It’s not been decided. Barca are going well but they could fail. We have to be ready for that error,” he remarked.
The two clubs will not give up by any stretch of the imagination, but inwardly, they know it’s extremely unlikely that the Catalan club will not win the League. Their main aims now will be second place, and what better way to start the contest than with a clash at the Bernabeu?
The pressure is definitely on Zidane’s men to win this game, with Diego Simeone maintaining his objective of ending up in at least third place once again. Madrid have only finished below second once in the past 10 years, and that was during the season of La Decima, so the trigger-happy Florentino Perez was appeased for a short while. Thus, one might wonder if Perez decides to part ways with his latest Coach if the campaign consists of no trophies and a third-placed finish.
With Gareth Bale out and Karim Benzema doubtful, Los Colchoneros will be content to sit deep as usual and counter when the flow of the game permits them to. A draw will suit Simeone as his side would remain ahead of their rivals, so the Atleti game plan which we are accustomed to should be the one employed on Saturday.
Ultimately, as well as Los Colchoneros have played this season in not falling too far behind Barca, they are still in transition, and the next two or three years will be the seasons where they attempt to conquer their Catalan rivals once again – that is if their Coach and best players stick around.
On the other hand, Los Meringues have not entered their transitional phase just yet, which looks like getting under way in the summer. Barring being crowned European champions for the 11th time, which is still very much a possibility, their campaign will be a write-off, something which has happened too many times in Perez’s second reign as President.
This Madrid derby is looking increasingly like a game in which pride is either restored or reduced, as is the case in games like these. But, unfortunately for the two sides competing, it will probably be nothing more than that.