Madrid. Whenever we hear this, we assume it's the Los Blancos. Such was the domination of the Whites. However, Atletico is not a force that can be taken lightly. The city of Madrid is still ruled by two football clubs. Real Madrid has lost their way after Cristiano Ronaldo left the city to move to Juventus. After setting the historic Champions League record of winning it three times in a row, they have now slowly drifted away from their form. Atletico on the other hand is ruling La Liga now. What has changed?
A sharper and tactical Atletico Madrid
The "other" Madrid has almost clutched away the league title from the defending champion's grasp this season. Atletico leads the table with a gap of 5 points having played 2 games less than Real. That is potentially a gap of 11 points with over half of the season completed. If they continue their current form, they would be the undisputed leaders of La Liga and lift the trophy for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
So what has changed? Atletico Madrid was never a side that relied on attacking or for that matter, their midfield. Their style of play was defensive where they suffocated their opposition and struck on the counter. Even today, their defense retains their title of one of the best in Europe. The players might not be world-class but they are extremely hard working. Diego Simeone sees to it that the players give their all in the field even if the ball is in the opposition's feet.
Their lack of attacking prowess always held them back from becoming a deadly team. In the league, they always conceded the least.
What is going wrong with Real Madrid?
Real Madrid is currently third in the table. However, even the third position is not secure for them as they already seem out of shape. Although they are winning enough games, they are not at their convincing best. They have won 3 out of their last five games. However, their loss to Levante at home painted a rather apt picture of their current struggles.
This recent inefficiency seems to emanate from their inability to replace Cristiano Ronaldo across the squad. Vinicius Junior came with huge ambitions but his poor finishing skills and lack of sharpness have cost him and the team. Hazard, who was hailed as one of the best players in the Premier League couldn't conjure his magic at the Bernabeu. Injuries have taken their toll on the Belgian who has failed to make a mark whatsoever. Hazard has suffered from a total of 9 injuries in his time at the Spanish capital.
Rodrygo, another young prospect is out injured as well. This leaves their wing pretty weak and the task falls upon full-backs such as Marcelo and the young Marvin Park to provide creativity. The wing is one of the main strengths of the Whites as they love to throw crosses into the box. The magical midfield trio of Modric, Kroos, and Casemiro have aged. They ruled over Europe during their remarkable run in the Champions League having won it three times in succession. However, now they need a rebuild and rotation to cope with the hectic demands. Overall, it leads to a team that plays predictable football and leans on moments of individual brilliance to pull out a win.
Their chances of winning the Champions League
Both the clubs of Madrid have progressed to the Round of 16 in the Champions League. However, how far they can hope to progress is really a tough question to ponder upon.
Atletico Madrid has to face Chelsea in the next round. Chelsea has made numerous signings in the transfer market before the start of the season. However, they are yet to produce the chemistry between the young players. Due to lack of experience, Chelsea has failed to produce a result that fumbles the opponents. On the other hand, Atletico is on the back of an excellent run in the league. Their players are gelling well. With the addition of Luis Suarez in the squad, they have added goals to their defending. They will look forward to imposing the same pressure on Chelsea as they did to Liverpool in the last season. With the current form they are having, Atletico will definitely dream of going deep in the tournament.
Real Madrid has a considerably easier opponent than their rivals. Atalanta is currently seventh in Seria A. However, Atalanta has one strength that can be a problem for the Los Blancos. Their attacking prowess. In spite of being seventh, Atalanta has scored the second-most goals in the league (48) just behind Inter (51). Their counter-attacks are one of the fastest in European football with Luis Muriel leading the line. With Ramos out due to injury, Varane will have to deal with the attacks and lead his team through. Considering their injury list and current form, it will be difficult for them to mount a title challenge.
The impact of upcoming transfers
Real Madrid has not stopped hunting for a forward who can ease their troubles and provide stability to the frontline. The club is heavily linked to Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. These two youngsters are already world-class and have caught the eyes of big clubs. Real Madrid also has their eye set on David Alaba who can play both as a fullback or a centre back. These signings can help provide the team some stability which they are clearly lacking.
Atletico, on the other hand, has secured the signing of Marcos Paulo, a promising Portuguese forward, who will join them at the end of the current season. Atletico is already rock-solid in their defense for many seasons. Their problem has been mainly the lack of creativity in midfield and sloppy mistakes from forwards. Marcos can provide a solution to the attack under Diego Simeone.
Is this a one-season show or a gradual change?
From the looks of it, Atletico has found an answer to restore their status as one of the greats in European football. This will only get better in the upcoming seasons unless the team is disbanded. This is because their teamwork is their best asset and they do not rely on individual brilliance. The same cannot be said for the Whites. They need to bring some stability to their team. The transfer window might be a good opportunity for them to restore some balance.