The talk track in the aftermath of Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 win over Barcelona across all Spanish media has been crystal clear: Barcelona are a club in crisis. Look at their downward spiral and turmoil over the past two years. How much further can they fall?
But, hang on a second, what about Atletico?
Two years ago, they were clinging onto third place in La Liga with a frontline of Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa, having just lost their entire defence. Now, they’re the reigning champions and make light work of dispatching of Barcelona.
Two years ago, the only person who gave any kind of backing to Thomas Lemar was Diego Simeone. Now, he’s the star of the show in dismantling Barcelona days after returning from injury.
Two years ago, Ivan Saponjic was Atletico’s fourth-choice forward, and Antoine Griezmann had left in desperate circumstances. Now, Griezmann is Atletico’s fourth-choice forward having come grovelling back.
Two years ago, people were calling for Simeone’s head after years of so-called “underachievement”. Now, he’s the best coach in Spain and there’s no debate about it.
There can be no denying that Barcelona have fallen off a cliff since then. But Atletico’s achievements are worthy of recognition.
And the same is true for Saturday night’s fixture specifically. Yes, Nico Gonzalez could have tracked his man, Ronald Araujo could have not been turned inside out and Memphis Depay could have been more precise in his shooting. But to say all that, you forget that Lemar timed his run perfectly, Joao Felix has the magic of David Blaine and Josema Gimenez threw his body at everything that came his way.
Saturday marked a complete role reversal for Atletico and Barcelona. A sold-out Wanda Metropolitano was raucous as it roared on Atletico to victory, with queues out the door of the club shop of fans indecisive of which star talent to get printed on their shirt. At Camp Nou, where socios are turning away tickets, fans are desperately crying out for a star to step up and lead.
Atletico took the game by the scruff of the neck, allowing Barcelona to have more of the ball but showing that they were far more dangerous on it. Gone are the days of Simeone having his team sit deep and hope for a counter. This was methodical, waiting for the moment to pounce and unleashing a raft of attacking talent to do so when the opportunity presented itself.
For all of the reasons that Barcelona’s collapse has been tragic, Atletico’s rise has been magnificent. Where Barcelona have gone from Lionel Messi to Luuk de Jong, Atletico have gone from Costa to Luis Suarez, from Vitolo to Lemar, from Thomas Partey to Marcos Llorente.
The media will stay on the track of Ronald Koeman’s precarious job security and Barcelona’s fight for top four, but Atletico deserve credit for their transformation.