The Madrid derby takes place Wednesday under one of the most interesting circumstances in years. Last time the two teams met, Real Madrid was rolling, Atletico Madrid was flailing, and the La Liga title was a done deal.
This time around, Atletico Madrid is revitalized under the guidance of Diego Simeone, who has led the team to the Europa League semifinals and placed it within striking distance of European qualification in La Liga.
Once again, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao is doubtful for the game, but regardless of his absence, the stakes are higher than ever for both teams.
The Madrid Derby is always a greatly anticipated event, but it's hardly much of a rivalry. Atletico hasn't beaten Real Madrid in over a decade. Simeone was 0-5 as a player against Real. He hopes to finally turn it around as a coach and he might not get a better opportunity for a while.
Real Madrid is nervous. The club may not admit it but Barcelona is at its heels, and Jose Mourinho's paranoid complex is coming to fruition. Usually the team recovers from a loss by pouncing on its next opponent, but this is also some of the toughest scheduling it will face all year.
It drew 0-0 against Valencia on Sunday, and now faces local rival Atletico on Wednesday. Real will then play again on Saturday.
If Falcao is able to play, two of the three top scorers in La Liga will be on the field (Cristiano Ronaldo is the other). The Madrid defense has continued to play sloppily this season, although its high-octane offense has been able to relieve the pressure.
The first meeting, without Falcao, ended 4-1 for Real Madrid in a game that Atletico actually played fairly well (despite being a man down the entire second half).
The whole world will be watching for Atletico to finally get the monkey off its back. It seemed it was the year of the younger brothers — when Manchester City got the best of Manchester United– but that ship has been corrected since, now it's time for Atletico to prove 12 years is enough.
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Thumbnail photo via Flickr/RobertoMartinez