In the last week of January, Atletico Madrid were sitting comfortable and leading the Spanish La Liga with seven points separating them from Real Madrid.
The Rojibloncos also had a game on their city rivals and Diego Simeone called for calm over his team possibly running away with a first league title in seven years.
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Atletico coach Diego Simeone, however, called for calm as the media stopped short of crowning his side champions-in-waiting, perhaps El Cholo saw what everyone did not see coming.
Two months later and with injury to key players at different points- especially Joao Felix- meant the wheels are almost falling off, the 2014 La Liga title winners won only four of nine matches after going on a run of eight consecutive wins.
The Champions league finalists also conceded just twice in the first 10 matches of the season but let in eight more in the next ten games, a statistic uncharacteristic of Simeone’s side.
They have failed to keep a clean sheet in 10 of their last 13 matches, conceding an average of one goal per match.
While these only describe the recent decline in Los Colchoneros’ ranks, happenings across town and in faraway Catalonia is something short of miracle.
Real Madrid won La Liga thanks to a world class, experienced but tiring squad sprinkled with average players last season, and have suffered several hiccups in the present one.
Los Merengues started with three wins in four but could only manage two in the next six during a sequence they suffered embarrassing losses at home to Cadiz and Deportivo Alaves.
With several injuries to key players, Zinedine Zidane and his players were further questioned as they were thrown of the Copa Del Rey by Segunda division side Al Coyano while also losing in the Spanish Super Cup to Athletic Bilbao. They however found pragmatism and a turnaround in fortune followed, losiing only once in 19 matches, on a run of nine matches unbeaten and recently took apart Liverpool in the UCL quarter final first leg.
Barcelona on the other hand were in turmoil even before the league started with club captain and talisman Lionel Messi stating his desire to leave. Mountains were turned for the club’s record goalscorer to stay, including the exit of former chairman Josep Bartomeu.
Regardless, the Catalans started with three straight wins but then slumped to just two in eight matches, including defeats to both Real and Atletico Madrid. Ronald Koeman has however steadied the ship and the Blaugrana are currently on a 19-match unbeaten run in which they won 16 games.
Messi also tops the goal scorers’ chart with 23 goals and Karim Benzema has scored 18 for Real Madrid, both players’ goals propelling Barcelona back to second and only a point behind Atletico while Real are third and just three point away.
So, whoever wins this 182nd league edition of the El Clasico on Saturday night will have the momentum going into the nine-game stretch that ends the season.
Based on their recent league runs, a psychological goal has been scored by both Barcelona and Real over Atletico and it remains to be seen which club takes advantage of Simeone and his charges’ downturn in form.
The 50-year-old Argentine stated after last week’s loss to Sevilla that the “Spanish championship is tough and they will “fight until the end” but with Atletico still to face Barcelona at the Camp Nou, the title would either return to Catalonia or stay in Madrid, only it might not be hoisted at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium come the end of the season.