It seems beyond memory when Atletico were last the dominant team in a clash against Real Madrid. It seems equally long ago that Barcelona's greatest title threat—at least up until this point of the season—would come from a team other than Real.
But Diego Simeone has his team playing exceptionally well so far, and they have given evidence that they are good enough to rise to the occasion.
Atletico's threat shouldn't be taken lightly. Never before have Real Madrid looked so ripe for the picking. It's difficult to see another time in the future when Atletico will have an opportunity to stand tallest in the streets of Madrid.
It has been such a fantastic story for La Liga that Diego Simeone's team have remained on course and largely kept pace with Barcelona. The title race between the Catalans and Jose Mourinho's team may be over—at least that was the feeling after this past weekend's set of fixtures—but the race for the La Liga crown is very much alive between a Falcao-led Atletico and Tito Vilanova's Barcelona.
It has been the Colombian striker who has rightly taken all the praise so far, continuing on from his excellent form of last season and grabbing 14 goals in all competitions. But let's not take anything away from Diego Simeone, who has managed to shape this team into an effective unit at both ends of the pitch.
Last season, it was incredibly easy to talk about Real Madrid as a juggernaut with a relentless scoring individual in attack. That description may now be equally fitting to their rivals at the Vicente Calderon.
Atletico are not only winning the difficult games and scraping the 1-0 wins, they are also going out and wiping the floor with the opposition. They're showing they can be dominant and full of class and attacking fluidity, traits that are necessary if they are to be considered the much-needed third at the top of the league table.
Even against a good Sevilla side, Atletico's win on the weekend was about as comprehensive and convincing as you're going to get. It was the perfect precursor to the Madrid derby.
But it was a game that showcased Simeone's excellent managerial qualities. He set his team up to frustrate Sevilla while also maintaining their attacking ferocity in front of goal. Could this be the start of another battle between two of La Liga's finest coaches in Simeone and his counterpart at the Bernabeu?
Filipe Luis, among a few others, was fortunate not to pick up another yellow card ahead of this match. In the Brazilian fullback, Atletico have a player who is excellent defensively as well as in attack. On the other, the combination of Arda Turan and Juanfran are more than good enough to stop a Marcelo-lite Cristiano Ronaldo.
You've got to believe that Atletico are good enough to limit Real and prevent them from playing their most devastating card: their counterattack. They may see plenty of the ball, but frustrating Mourinho's team and pushing them further away from their natural game may be something we'll see. After all, how many teams have done that this season?
Ronaldo may not need to be kicked or persistently fouled, but he's a player who can become close to ineffectual when he's frustrated. Sure, Atletico have the players who can kick the Portuguese forward off the pitch and out of the game, but they also have players good enough to play clever football.
Maybe Sevilla wasn't the best way to measure Atletico's credentials ahead of the Madrid derby, but the Uefa Super Cup game against Chelsea certainly was. Even with a Chelsea XI that featured Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, Simeone got his tactics spot on and set up a disciplined barrier to stop the Chelsea attacks.
Real Madrid have struggled against very good opposition, and it has become obvious that this is not the same title-winning team of last year. Nevertheless, it doesn't take away their own threat and high probability of winning this match.
Real had put together a good run of form in the league prior to the match against Real Betis, but it was against smaller, weaker times like Zaragoza, Mallorca, Bilbao. The challenges have come in European competition, where the team have failed to look totally convincing.
The setting of the Bernabeu may be Mourinho's first line of defence. Real are yet to lose there in the league this season. However, Atletico have only lost once away in the league, their only loss of the entire campaign.
It's not as simple as just saying a good Atletico will go to a weakened Real and pick up a positive result. But what a fantastic marker it would be if Simeone's team did manage to take all three points. A win would undoubtedly legitimise their title challenge and right to be considered a serious participant in this season's title race.
Jose Mourinho has already begun the process of demanding much more from his players. The thing is, on another day, perhaps they would have beaten Real Betis and left Seville with all three points.
But Mourinho is aware that Atletico will pose a much bigger threat. There certainly won't be a shift of power in Madrid following one game, or even just this season, but a loss this Saturday will only add to the spiky atmosphere at the Bernabeu.