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Friday September 12 2014
Derby fear factor forgotten

Not long ago Atletico Madrid dreaded El Derbi while Real Madrid felt three points were guaranteed. Garreth Nunn looks at how that changed.

In the past it was always about omens and even when the omens failed, Atletico Madrid fans went out and found new ones. In the end a sort of acceptance came and even the most die-hard Rojiblanco found it hard to believe Atletico would finally win a derby.

Then came Diego Simeone and although it took him three attempts to do so, he would be the one at the helm to win Atleti’s first derby in 25 encounters. Was the tide about to turn?

Real Madrid fans lived in denial for a while. They claimed it was a fluke and that normal service would soon return. A few months after the Cup final defeat, they faced Los Colchoneros at home in the League and saw the chance to show the world that what happened the previous May was just a bump in the road.

Atletico would end up victorious and some at the Santiago Bernabeu were left holding their head in their hands, ruing what one section of the ground had asked for just two seasons earlier.

Back during the 2011-12 season Real Madrid had been well on their way to victory but to rub salt into Atletico’s wounds a section of Merengue fans held up a banner in the form of a classified advertisement. It announced that the club were looking for a city rival who could compete against their club and give them a bit of a game. Real Madrid fans laughed, Atleti supporters hung their heads because once again their side were heading for defeat and a derby victory never looked further away.

Yet it did come and the banner has come back to haunt Real Madrid because it is mentioned each time Atleti win, mostly recently in this year’s Supercopa.

‘Madrid respect us. They don’t like playing against us any longer because we pose them problems,’ said Atletico captain Gabi on a radio station earlier this week. He’s right. Where once Real Madrid fans taunted their city rivals before the big game, they now hold their tongues. It is true that Real Madrid did win the coveted Decima against Atletico but Los Rojiblancos earned some pride back by winning the Supercopa.

Where once Atletico were a disorganised shambles both on and off the pitch, they are now used as an example for stability. The club still have their problems but success on the pitch has turned attention away from that. Real Madrid on the other hand may have spent big this summer but arguments over their transfer movements and where players fit into the team are debated daily by the media and across the city.

Right now Atletico go into this game as the stable side but as last May proved, never write off Real Madrid.

During the playing days of Alfredo Di Stefano, the Argentine said that the most important fixture of the La Liga calendar was El Derbi. Luis Aragones echoed that sentiment and spoke about how sad it was that the tie had lost its shine. In recent years the tie has started to rise in importance and now both sides are rivals again as they both compete for the same objectives.

Will it last? Who knows, but for now Atletico Madrid have nothing to fear and their confidence level is as high as it possibly can be. The fear factor has gone and been replaced by the Cholo factor. Real Madrid will want to return to the old days and to do so they must get a win this Saturday.

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