The German Bundesliga may claim to be the most supported and profitable league in Europe. But there’s no denying that it’s a two team league. If and when Borussia Dortmund slip up, Bayern can easily run away with all forms of domestic accolades, faster than Jurgen Klopp can spell Robert Lewandowski.
Compared to the Italian Serie A, which finds itself at a crossroad this season. Juventus have dominated headlines in the last three seasons. But even when they’re not at the top of the standings, they find themselves on the back pages for some reason or another anyway. Plus, there will always be that romantic appeal of the local derbies especially between the two Milan based sides and the two Roman clubs. Yet, there’s probably four clubs that always hog the top of the league come May.
In France, Paris St Germain are likely to dominate the Ligue 1 this season and in the unforeseeable future. Especially since AS Monaco, a club once seen as the only potential to rival PSG’s deep pockets has subtly taken more than a few cost cutting measures.
And then we have the Spanish La Liga.
For as long as most of us can remember, it has seen a duopoly between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both clubs have won 54 league titles collectively, in 83 seasons. That accounts to 65% of the time! In the last decade alone, Barca and Real have won La Liga nine times.
Atletico Madrid’s victory last season was the first time another club besides Real or Barca won the league, since the 2003/04 season. A Rafael Benitez-led Valencia managed to break the duopolic-dominance back then. Going a further ten years, between 1994 and 2004 Real and Barca won the title 6 times. Atleti, Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia successfully broke the cycle on four separate occasions.
Which brings me to my point.
Atletico Madrid have to win this weekend’s city-dividing derby against Real Madrid, or run the risk of plunging the league back into the doldrums of duopoly. Yes, unfortunately by winning the league last season, they’ve indirectly and unofficially become the only remaining beacon of hope to the rest of La Liga and a reminder to the world of football that there are 18 other clubs playing in Spain’s top tier, besides Real and Barca.
It will be league derby number 155 between the neighbors. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the away side.
Yes, Atleti will be without their inspirational manager, Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone. The Argentine will be serving the 3rd of his 8-match ban.
But Real could find themselves with a less than match fit Cristiano Ronaldo. And still rueing from that shock loss to Real Sociedad a fortnight ago, Los Blancos will be under more pressure to eke out a win in front of their home fans. All this, while trying to figure out how to balance a rather top-heavy team which still has Carlo Ancelotti scratching his head in figuring out his best midfield combination.
Atleti’s new boys on the other hand, look as if they’re blending in better with their new team. With new goalie Miguel Moya already impressing critics in his first 2 league matches, Mario Mandzukic opening his goal scoring account and Antoine Griezmann picking up from where he left off with his old club Sociedad, Los Rojiblancos seem to be on course.
With the margin between the top 3 expected to be close again, every point will count. Especially at this early stage of the league when most teams are still finding their feet. A win for Atleti will cause so much unimaginable disarray to Real. More so since it follows that loss to Sociedad prior to the international weekend. That in itself has already set some tongues wagging and questioning Ancelotti’s position past Christmas. Even disgruntled players have started to criticise the club’s transfer activity too.
Take it as an SOS to save the Spanish league, even a public service for football fans around the world. Winning the league once, rattles a few cages. But if there’s no follow-up, it’s very easy to dismiss the victory as a blip. Luck was on their side, the suits will say. Real and Barca were focused on other issues, fans will insist. I know it’s too early to assume things. And a win in the derby does not guarantee the successful defence of Atleti’s league title come May.
But what better way to remind people you’re not a one-trick pony, than to defeat Real at their own backyard in the derby…again!