Saturday, November 7, 2009

The State of Affairs in Madrid

Madrid, like most major metropolitan areas, boasts two professional football teams: eternal winners Real Madrid, and a band of malcontent losers known affectionately as Patetico Madrid, excuse me, Atletico Madrid. As these two historic teams prepare for their first derbi of the season tomorrow (ESPNDeportes 4 p.m. ET), it's worth examining how each team arrives to what would be the match of the weekend, were one and two in the EPL not squaring off Sunday morning. Regardless, the Madrid derbi is one to watch.

Atletico Madrid makes a "triumphant" return to the Calderon after their "victory" there midweek...when they tied Chelsea. "Victory" because that tie was the single high point of a terrible campaign so far, even though they were mathematically eliminated from Champions League due to it. But considering they're currently in a relegation spot, 18th, Atletico will be keen to continue their "run" of good form under new coach Quique Sanchez Flores and try to beat Real Madrid for the first time in the 2000s. Kun looked like the star he's been hyped up to be, but with Sanchez Flores calling this the game of the year for Atletico, you have to wonder if the pressure will be too much for the rojiblancos to endure, and it will be S.S.D.D. all over again. And while the team has improved significantly in the past two weeks under Flores, this is still the team that lost a 2-1 lead at home, in the 91st minute, against a nine man Mallorca exactly thirteen days ago. The coach has stated the team's objective is to be in the top seven by the Christmas break, and a win against crosstown rivals would break a huge drought for the team from Manzanares, and go a long way towards bolstering the team's ever-fragile psychology. But for the past four years every year has looked like it might be Atletico's, whether on paper or on recent form, but it never is. Truth be told, they've had the chance to win a derbi three times in that time, and botched all three opportunities in typical Atletico fashion. End result? Two ties and a loss.

Real Madrid on the other hand, must have a win to keep the pace with Barcelona. Less than two weeks ago, the alarms went off (as they're predisposed to do in Madrid) when Real lost 4-0 to third division outfit Alcorcon in the first leg of the King's Cup. It didn't help that the team had just tied Sporting Gijon 0-0 (on a wrongly disallowed Raul goal). Pellegrini's head was requested, with Marca's coverpage reading, "Leave Now." The press actually seemed surprised Pellegrini didn't just quit. Meanwhile Pellegrini played his part, reiterating his belief in the project, and not-so-subtly reminding the press and the organization that in the past five years, with ten coaches, the team's won two titles. A haul the Chilean categorized as "not much." The team redeemed itself somewhat against Getafe at the Bernabeu when the madridista faithful turned on the referee for expelling Albiol, and Higuain scored two (nearly three) for a 2-0 victory against the outnumbered home side. But it's not all smiles in Chamartin, as Ronaldo remains injured and while he should be ready by the clasico, the Portuguese national team is intent on him pushing to play for the two game tie against Bosnia. Qualification, it seems, could cost him the World Cup, considering the delicate nature of his injury. And at midweek, while Real looked excellent in the first half at AC Milan, the truth is they tied, and played a diluted second half.

And just as one knows that eventually Real Madrid will beat an Italian side, so it seems Atletico Madrid will eventually win a derbi. But will this be the year? Can Real afford it to be? With Barcelona within one point, Real Madrid desperately need a win to keep the pressure on. But the rivalry is fierce, and if desperation is truly the key, Atletico certainly have the edge. In the end, Real Madrid's form and talent should win the day, but you never can tell. And that's the reason derbis remain special. Especially the one played in Madrid, where it's not just a battle of history, social class, and football, but a battle for hegemony over what any good gato or gata will tell you is the best city on earth - Madrid.

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