By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Derby defeat proved desperately disappointing. Atletico Madrid went down with little fuss or fight at Santiago Bernabeu two weeks ago. It was supposed to be the night Diego Simeone’s side came of age in La Liga, ended a wretched record against their city rivals and showed their title credentials. But the 2-0 loss left their fans frustrated instead – it was merely more of the same.
Now they have another chance.
Atletico had failed to beat Real since 1999 but never looked likely to change that sorry statistic at the Bernabeu recently – and in the end were lucky to lose just 2-0. That reverse saw Simeone’s men fall six points behind Barca at the top of the table, but they reacted by brilliantly thrashing Deportivo La Coruna last weekend and now have the opportunity to prove themselves against the league leaders.
Barca and Atletico take top billing on Sunday night in a game which will be of interest not only for those two teams, but also Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s men remain 11 points off the pace (and five behind Atleti) in the Primera Division and will be rooting for their local rivals over fierce adversaries Barcelona.
For Atleti, however, it is all about making a statement of intent at Camp Nou. The Madrid side can close the gap at the top to three points and Simeone has told his players they must make up for their recent derby distress.
Barca boss Tito Vilanova, meanwhile, told reporters on Saturday that in any other league, Atletico would be on top right now. And given that they have claimed 37 points out of a possible 45, he is probably right.
But Madrid won La Liga last term by winning 100 points out of 114 on offer and the Primera Division has been brutally competitive since Pep Guardiola raised the bar in 2008-09.
Mourinho then raised that bar even higher last term as his Madrid side totted up an unprecedented century of points, but the Portuguese and his team are playing catch up this time around and he too will hope his side’s local rivals will be able to lend a hand on Sunday evening.
To do so, Atletico must end a miserable run of form at Camp Nou which has seen them lose their last five and concede 22 goals in the process, scoring just three. They will also have to contend with on-form Lionel Messi, who has scored more goals against Atleti (18 in 14 games) than any other side. And 14 of those have come in the Argentine’s 12 league matches versus the Madrid team.
While Atletico travel to Barcelona, Real are at home to struggling Espanyol earlier on Sunday. So both Barca and Madrid will be cheering on their local rivals. And one way or another, the two games could have a huge bearing on La Liga. It’s time for Simeone’s charges to prove they are more than also-rans in a three-horse race – and Madrid will hope Los Rojiblancos can come up with a shock, too.
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