Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid: The once predictable Madrid derby that's no longer a forgone conclusion

Atletico's meteoric rise under Diego Simeone has seen them become a constant thorn in the back-side of their illustrious city rivals

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The Independent Online

Derby day outcomes used to be as obvious as a Madrid summer in the Spanish capital. Bright blue skies and high temperatures will descend on the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday as Real Madrid host Atlético Madrid in La Liga but the outcome is no longer as straightforward as it used to be.

Between 1999 and 2013 going to a Madrid derby match was more akin to attending the famous Plaza de Toros de las Ventas in the east of the city. Madrid, the matador, teasing and taunting their less glamorous neighbour from beside the Manzanares river. Atleti, the bull, trying desperately to overcome their masters. There may have been some cuts and bruises along the way but the result was never, ever, in doubt.

Los Blancos went 25 matches without suffering derby day disappointment home or away. The men in white seemingly just had to turn up to get a positive result and the contest was no longer really a contest. Not until now. Diego Pablo Simeone has grabbed that Atleti bull by the horns and has transferred its rebellious and aggressive nature into a positive. Los Colchoneros will travel up the Paseo de la Castellana not as underdogs today, but as a good bet to get something from the game.

Atleti’s progress under Simeone has been emphatic. Madrid cruised to 4-1 wins home and away in the 2011-12 campaign and the Argentine’s first derby clash as a manager came in the 4-1 reverse on home soil.

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Cristiano Ronaldo is said to be fit for the clash

Radamel Falcao had the hosts on level terms early in the second half but Cristiano Ronaldo eventually went on to complete a hat-trick and Jose Callejon also added to the Atleti wounds. It was business as usual but it was just months into Simeone’s term at the helm. Change was coming.

That change showed signs of further progression the following season when Los Rojiblancos sensed an end to their pain. At the Calderon in the latter stages of the season Jose Mourinho fielded a weakened side and Falcao had given the hosts a fourth-minute advantage. Try as they might, it didn’t last as Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria fired an under-strength Blancos side to victory. They called it a curse.

That defeat left another sour taste in the mouth of Atleti fans but they didn’t have to wait long to gain their revenge. And what revenge.

It was a dish served cold and it was a dish served sweet. The derby foes met for one last time in the 2012-13 season in the Copa del Rey final and it was held at the Bernabeu. When Ronaldo fired the ‘hosts’ ahead in the first half it looked like a familiar story was about to unfold but Diego Costa levelled things up before the break and Miranda went into the Atleti history books with an extra-time winner as the match concluded in dramatic fashion. Half of the Bernabeu was red and white and that famous night sparked a change in the course of derby matches in the capital.

Since then, Atleti bagged a famous victory at the Bernabeu just months later in the league and held their rivals to a 2-2 draw on home soil before clinching a famous league title as their more illustrious neighbours sat in third, albeit with the honour of claiming La Decima against Atleti in the final of the Champions League in Lisbon, an honour Carlo Ancelotti and his troops would have taken over league glory at the start of the campaign. They also outplayed Madrid over two legs in the recent Spanish Super Cup, proving last season’s efforts were not a flash in the pan.

Now, ahead of the first league derby match of the season, Atleti make the trip with a newfound confidence. They are no longer expected to turn up and leave downbeat. If anything, they may well have the edge.

"Since his arrival, Simeone has set out a game-plan which means that we are now more competitive in the derby matches,” said Atleti full-back Juanfran. “A few years ago it was something impossible but now things have changed”.

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Champions League hero Gareth Bale is likely to feature

Things have certainly changed. Madrid’s Champions League triumph should have been the accolade that swung things back in the favour of the Bernabeu club but the somewhat shock departures of key men Di Maria and Xabi Alonso have left Ancelotti looking for a balance it took months to secure a year ago.

At the Calderon, Atleti may have lost key stars such as Diego Costa, Felipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois but Simeone has been entrusted with one of the biggest spending budgets in the club’s history. Players including Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann have come in and helped make Los Colchoneros arguably an improved squad this season.

The dismantling of Simeone’s squad has not been as devastating as some predicted.

Croatian international Mandzukic grabbed the winner in the Spanish Super Cup and he will hope to follow in the footsteps of his attacking predecessor and grab the winner at the Bernabeu on Saturday night.

This time it would not be a surprise. “We prepare for the match with the idea of winning and confidence we leave behind in the dressing room,” Juanfran said. “The derbies are now more competitive and we’ve managed to break the bad run. The Madrid fans now view us in a different light.”

El Derbi may not reach the levels of intensity as El Clasico but Madrid certainly take clashes with their neighbours more seriously.

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Simeone went on a rampage during the Champions League defeat last season

Seven matches in just over a year, with an eighth to come on Saturday, have only boosted that rivalry. Both teams will be desperate for a win, too, given the sluggish nature of their opening two league matches of the campaign. Madrid have taken three points from six while Atleti dropped two points at Rayo Vallecano and only just edged out newly promoted minnows Eibar 2-1 on home soil.

Madrid was the capital of football last season owing to Atleti’s league triumph and Real’s success in Lisbon but both clubs will be battling to become king’s of the capital on Saturday night. It’s a mark of Simeone’s superb management that Atleti are in the battle at all.

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