Diego Simeone has began this season’s work at Atletico Madrid in great fashion, continuing with the improvements he’s done to the team since first joining the Rojiblancos midway through the 2011/12 season. They’re the in-form team in La Liga so far along with Barcelona, both teams sitting in the top two positions with 6 wins out of 6. Great rivals of both sides, Real Madrid, sit behind them by 2 points, only faltering on one hurdle, a difficult away trip to Villarreal in which Gareth Bale debuted for the Madrid side.
One reason for Atleti’s strong start to this season is their good performance in the summer transfer window. The low-cost (relatively speaking) acquisitions of Leo Baptistao and David Villa have added immensely to the squad with both players slipping neatly into the first team leaving the Vicente Calderón faithful wondering; Radamel who? Villa has started the season well for his new side, including contributing a goal and an assist in an important 2-1 victory away to last season’s fourth placed team Real Sociedad. Leo Baptistao broke into the Rayo Vallecano first team last year at the tender age of 20, and was widely touted as one of the best young players in La Liga. His goals and assists in the first half of the season last year were surely one of the reasons why Rayo not only stayed up, but finished in a club record 8th place in the league.
I’ve recently moved to Madrid from my hometown of Dublin. I came here to study communications and learn Spanish, but I’m also going to grab with great fervour the chance to experience a year of Spain’s La Liga football, which in my opinion is the best league in the world. The best league on the pitch, that is. There is a saying over here that La Liga is ‘played by geniuses, run by idiots.’ In my first three weeks of living here, I already saw first hand the extent of the truth behind the saying.
In this article, I’m going to write about my first experiences of La Liga football this season, and the culture behind it in the city of Madrid, in the setting of a week where two derbies were played involving Rayo Vallecano, Atlético de Madrid, and los Campeones, Real Madrid.
I settled into life in Madrid relatively quickly. It wasn’t that hard to do (for me anyway), as a student living with four friends, when we arrived we enjoyed the occasional alcoholic beverage and venture into the city centre to experience the nightlife (every night…) I live in the west of the city, a two minute walk away from the river, to the Manzanares’ west. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Madrid, El Estadio Vicente Calderón is located south-west of the city centre too, and as I discovered on a walk I went on one day, I lived only a stone’s throw away from Atlético Madrid’s ground. The Calderón is actually located just on the banks of the river, on the east side, so there’ll always be some physical separation between my house and Atleti’s stadium.
When Real Madrid went 13 points clear at the start of March, it looked as if José Mourinho would finally break the Barca stranglehold on the La Liga title. But gradually, the Catalans have clawed the gap back to only four points. The two clubs will meet at the Nou Camp this Saturday, which, if Mourinho’s men get result, would surely decide the title. The league championship is not the unresolved issue in the league, with both other Champions League and the Europa League places up for grabs, whereas the relegation places seem to have already been decided.
If Barca can get a win on their home patch this Saturday, then it will blow the title race wide open. After Saturday’s game, Madrid will face Sevilla at home before making the daunting trip to San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao. Bilbao will be fancied by many to take at least a point in that game so it is important for Real Madrid to go into these two games with their four point lead still in tact. Barca seem to have an easier run-in with their toughest fixture looking like Rayo Vallecano in Vallekas the week after ‘El Clásico’.
Then, of course there’s the small matter of Real Madrid and Barcelona meeting in the Champions League final on the 19th of May, although both sides will have to overcome first leg deficits to reach the show-piece final in Munich.