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We are approaching the stage of the season where the table begins to take shape, so it is something of a surprise that neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona are sitting at the summit of the standings right now. It is not even Atletico Madrid, a club that has disrupted Spanish soccer’s traditional duopoly at times in recent years, who occupy first place. Instead, that honor belongs to Real Sociedad, who have amassed 20 points from their first nine matches.
Granted, La Real have played two more games than Atletico and Barcelona, and one more than Madrid. Even so, their strong start to the season – coupled with the struggles of Spain’s big two – suggests a surprise title winner is not beyond the realms of possibility this term.
It will not shock anyone to learn that Madrid and Barcelona are still the favorites, though. DraftKings Sportsbook offers +125 on Zinedine Zidane’s side retaining their crown, while Ronald Koeman’s B can be backed at +200. Coming in at third is Atletico, listed at odds of +300.
“They know us, they know that beyond happiness we do not depend on what is going to happen in the game against Barcelona,” Diego Simeone said last weekend, dismissing suggestions that victory over Koeman’s side on Saturday could confirm Atletico’s status as title contenders.
Ahead of their clash at the Wanda Metropolitano, here are five classic games between Atletico and Barcelona from the last decade.
Simeone took charge of Atletico back in December 2011 and enjoyed success from the start, winning the Europa League just months after being handed the reins. Atletico followed that up with the Copa del Rey in 2012/13, but few believed they could take the final step and win the La Liga title.
In 2013/14, they proved their doubters wrong. Simeone had fully got his ideas across by this stage, and he had been given sufficient time to build a squad in his image. Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godin, Gabi, and Diego Costa formed a formidable spine, and Atletico’s aggression and intensity proved too much for most of their opponents in La Liga.
The campaign concluded in the most dramatic way possible. Atletico headed to the Camp Nou knowing that a draw or win would make them champions, while a defeat would hand the title to Barcelona. Alexis Sanchez gave the home team the lead, but Godin’s second-half header sent the championship to the Spanish capital.
A year later, the roles were reversed. Atletico struggled to keep pace with the top two in 2014/15, spending the majority of the season in third. They drew nine games and lost six that season, which compared unfavorably to their six draws and four defeats of 2013/14.
Real Madrid was in pole position to finish first at the start of February, but a 4-0 loss to Atletico proved damaging. Madrid went on to drop points in four other matches, while Barcelona went on an impressive winning run to climb onto the summit of the standings.
Luis Enrique’s side wrapped up the title on the penultimate weekend of the season with a 1-0 victory over Atletico at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti fans were not too unhappy to lose that day, since it prevented their city rivals from getting their hands on the trophy.
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team of 2008 to 2012 was one of the greatest club sides in soccer history, perhaps along with Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan and Rinus Michels’ Ajax. Barca won three La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues in that period, but they also redefined the game with their possession-heavy style of play.
That team’s signature performance was the 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid in 2010, but Guardiola’s side also beat Atletico – managed at the time by Gregorio Manzano – by the same scoreline the following year. David Villa opened the scoring against the club he would go on to win the league with three years later before Joao Miranda’s own goal doubled Barcelona’s lead midway through the first half.
From then on, it was the Lionel Messi show. The Argentine scored a brilliant hat-trick to steal the headlines, but this was a superb all-round performance from Barcelona.
Barcelona won a treble in 2015, triumphing in each of La Liga, the Champions League, and the Copa del Rey. The latter tournament may be the least significant of the three, but Luis Enrique was still delighted to emerge victorious in Spain’s domestic cup competition.
A 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the final is best remembered for a Lionel Messi wonder goal, as the Blaugrana outclassed their Basque opponents. They also eased past Villarreal in the semi-finals, but their two-legged quarter-final against Atletico proved a tougher test.
Barcelona won the first leg 1-0, giving Simeone’s side a chance heading into the return fixture at the Vicente Calderon. Fernando Torres gave Atletico the lead with just seconds on the clock, but Neymar hit back in the ninth minute. Joao Miranda’s own goal (again) and a Raul Garcia penalty made it 2-2, before Neymar scored what proved to be the winner just before half-time.
Between 2009 and 2019, there were only four years in which the Champions League final did not contain a Spanish team. Real Madrid was the most successful team in that time, lifting the famous trophy on no fewer than four occasions – the first two of which came with victories over Atletico in the final.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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