After 14 years, Atletico got the better of fierce rivals Real Madrid, and what a time to do it. Ending the season for Real in bitter fashion, Atletico had perhaps their greatest triumph, with Jose Mourinho dubbing the season as his “worst ever.” With dust settling on the campaign, where does this leave Atletico and Real?
Real will be under a new guiding philosophy, Carlo Ancelotti seems the likely replacement, however the logistics over a move from PSG are proving difficult for Real. Ancelotti is a safe option, much like most Real appointments. His success in the Champions League makes the most likely to bring the tenth title to Real, however that could prove impossible with the Guardiola reign at Bayern seeming destined to European domination.
A serious league challenge from Real could amount next season, Barcelona stormed the early part of the season, but since Tito Vilanova was away for a short period, the gap got closer. Without so many rifts between Mourinho and the dressing room, it could have been such a successful side this season.
The problem of Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema dipping out of form proved to be pivotal, and the ‘sadness’ of Cristiano Ronaldo also provided to be an obstacle. Real did show their class throughout the campaign, the Copa Del Rey Semi-Finals were the pinnacle of their season. It was quite unfitting that they lost the Copa Del Rey Final in such disappointing circumstances.
The divisions in Real’s team were leaped upon by Diego Simeone, who claimed the game showed Real’s lack of unity:
“You can have great champions but, without a group, there is not a team. It’s very difficult. We are a group first. That makes us a team.”
That was the fundamental difference in the final; Atletico were simply more unified. Divisions could define the Mourinho era, the constant conflict in the Real dressing room was pure poison to success. At times, Real and their conduct was utterly embarrassing.
Atletico are looking on the bright side despite the fact they are set to lose their star player, Radamel Falcao. There is a sense they can easily replace him; it proved to be a task they handled immaculately when replacing Fernando Torres and Sergio Aguero.
Rumors have linked Christian Benteke to a move, with his contract at Villa not quite wrapped up, he seems a fine replacement. His touch of class in pace and power proved to be the only thing consistent for Villa this season. If he was to emulate his Villa form in La Liga, he could potentially mature into one of Europe’s finest strikers.
Atletico will again test their weight in the Champions League after years of waiting. Spanish success in the group stage last term can prove as great encouragement. Especially, the success of Malaga, a side that would have made the Semi-Finals if it wasn’t for some bizarre circumstances in latter stages against Dortmund. If Malaga could conquer the tournament to as far as the Quarter-Finals, Atletico could dream of even going a step further.
Real’s success next season will depend on the impact of the new manager; if it is Ancelotti, he would provide a rock solid appointment in combating the dressing room rifts. His success at PSG last season in both league and to some extent the Champions League consolidated his ability to deal with egos.
For Atletico, they could realistically catch Barca. Shown up to be far from the Pep Barca that seemingly would never end, the fear of being far from the pace could corrupt the club. Moreover, the signing of Neymar could lead to complete denial if he ultimately fails to shine at Barca. For every step Barca and Real make backwards, Atletico come creeping further on.