It’s a cliché but it’s true - in the weekend’s drawn Madrid derby the only winners were Barcelona. When Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid failed to score between them in the 90 minutes at Wanda Metropolitano, it was the Catalans who had reason to celebrate.
There’s still a lot of the season to go, of course, and there will be twists and turns aplenty, but the fact is that as November comes to an end, La Liga is no longer a two horse race. Or at least, it’s not the usual two horses heading the field. Barcelona are stretching out in front with the chasing pack fighting to keep up - and it’s led by the rejuvenated Valencia, not either of the thoroughbreds from the capital.
Los Che were in Catalonia over the weekend and came away with another three points, Marcelino’s miracle still working as Espanyol were put to the sword. Valencia’s success only magnifies the struggle at Santiago Bernabeu, where the expensively-assembled squad continues to flounder - relatively speaking - while Valencia, rebuilt from the ashes of the Meriton project, continue to thrive.
It’s inconceivable that two-time Champions League-winning Coach Zinedine Zidane could be under pressure but surely, if he was any other boss, he would be. Los Blancos are 10 points adrift of Barcelona and second in their Champions League group, likely to reach the next stage but not yet guaranteed. If their domestic form doesn’t turn around it may be to Europe that Zizou turns for salvation but winning two Champions Leagues in a row was unlikely - three may be impossible, and then what for Florentino Perez’s favourite son?
Diego Simeone is similarly beloved at Atletico and will get the luxury of deciding his future himself, the success of the past six-plus years meaning Cholo can pick when his tenure comes to an end. He just won’t be able to decide how - in a blaze of glory, with that much-desired Champions League, or in a cloud of disappointment, with whispers that he would have been better off leaving a year or two ago.
If there were to be vacancies at one or both of the Madrid clubs next summer, on the back of disappointing campaigns that see Valencia as the only challengers to Barcelona, then Marcelino would be mentioned as a contender for the position(s). It’d be deserved, too, if Valencia’s form continues through the rest of the season, but would risk throwing Valencia back in to disarray. It’s taken 13 appointments in the past five years for Valencia to find a Coach with the right formula; would the club’s brain trust get it right again?
It may also be better for Marcelino to stick at Mestalla, to build something rather than jump into the political word of the Bernabeu, or have to fill Simeone’s enormous shoes on the other side of the city, but all of that is to come. Unbeaten Barcelona have a six-point lead over Valencia with the teams to meet next weekend in Valencia, a game not to be missed. It’s likely to have repercussions not just for this season, but for seasons to come.