Spanish football has traditionally been dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid, but recently a third power has emerged. Under Diego Simeone, Atlético Madrid have risen to the point where it might be legitimate to talk about a ‘Big 3’ in Spanish football.
Atlético won La Liga in 2013/2014 and reached the Champions League finals after selling some of their best players; they weren’t quite able to replicate such heights in 2014/2015 but they still had a pretty solid season. After another pre-season where Simeone had to reshuffle his squad, the question remained was whether Atlético could maintain their status as contenders and effectively turn the Big 2 into a Big 3?
So far, things have been looking great. Simeone has built another really impressive squad; their defense remains as tough as ever, with the likes of Koke and Oliver still reaching new heights in midfield and Jackson Martinez looking like yet another inspired forward signing – Atlético have a reputation for signing great strikers one after another. Even Torres is looking like a new man under Simeone’s guidance.
Atlético’s crushing 3-0 win at the Sanchez Pizjuan two weeks ago felt very much like a statement of intent, their way of letting everyone know that they’re a force to be reckoned with and that they won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
But the real test comes this weekend, when Atlético host Barcelona at the Vicente Caldéron. Barcelona might be treble winners, but their beginning of the season has been shaky at best; the same Sevilla that Atlético trounced was minutes away from taking Barcelona into a penalty shootout in the European Super Cup, while Athletic Bilbao did beat Barcelona to the Spanish Super Cup with an emphatic 5-1 aggregate score.
Just like Atlético, Barcelona won their first two La Liga matches but both were very unconvincing 1-0 wins. Lionel Messi is still far from his best form and Neymar is still working to get back to full fitness; as if that were not enough, Barcelona’s squad is paper thin at the moment. The Catalans did sign Arda Turan from Atlético this summer, but he won’t be available until January due to Barcelona’s transfer embargo.
Barcelona just aren’t the same team that foiled Atlético 4 times last season in both La Liga and the Copa del Rey. This is a huge opportunity for Atlético to seize early control of La Liga and regain the mental edge they held over Barcelona in 2013-2014. There has arguably never been a more significant matchday 3 fixture in the history of La Liga: the match might have huge implications not only in deciding this year’s competition but the overall landscape of Spanish football.
An Atlético win would pretty show that they are the real deal and will be challenging for the title, while a Barcelona win away from home might be enough to deflate Los Colchoneros, especially when you consider that given the current circumstances a lot of people expect Atlético to emerge victorious. It’s safe to say that this Saturday the first ‘final’ of the 2015-2016 La Liga will be taking place.