Who: Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid
What: La Liga European place decider
When: Sunday, February 10, 13 p.m. ET
Where: Campo de Futbol de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain
It takes a special game to throw either Barcelona or Real Madrid off the games to watch this weekend in La Liga but the upcoming derby between Rayo Vallecano and Atletico Madrid has all the ingredients to do so.
In years past Rayo have always been the little brother to Atletico, who have been the black sheep of the Madrid-based La Liga family.
This term, like Atletico, they are enjoying their best season in years.
Atletico currently occupy second spot in the La Liga table, a gargantuan nine points behind Barcelona and a meagre seven points ahead of Real Madrid in third. At this point in time Rayo are just outside the European places on goal difference having taken an impressive 34 points from their opening 22 games.
As the two Madrid-based teams head into battle at the Campo de Futbol, they are full in the knowledge that hurting their city rivals is the best way to further their own gains.
Despite the fact that the two teams are based in Madrid they have only faced each other 17 times since 1994, and Rayo have won just three of those matchups. When the two met last met in September they produced a 4-3 cracker where the two teams were only separated by a Radamel Falcao penalty.
Atletico had coasted into a four-goal lead only for Rayo to launch an amazing comeback in the last eight minutes that saw them score three goals during a siege of Thibaut Courtois' goal.
Along with Falcao who has scored 21 goals from 20 games, 20-year-old Courtois has been a revelation and has kept 12 clean sheets in 26 appearances. He has also kept three clean sheets from four while playing for Belgium during their World Cup qualifiers.
Rayo have been less brilliant than Atletico this term, but from an abysmal run where they only won one game from eight they have now only lost two from their last seven.
La Liga fixtures over the second half of the season mirror the first half exactly. With that in mind it is ominous for Rayo that they are now playing against the same eight teams that gave them their worst run of the season.
They lost last weekend to Sevilla and face Real Madrid next week before they face Valladolid who hammered them 6-1 when they met in September.
If Rayo harbour any real ambition of moving into the top six they will have to begin with a result against their Champions League-chasing neighbours.
And while Atletico may not win the league, finishing above Real Madrid would most certainly be the equivalent of winning a trophy; the same could be said of Rayo qualifying for Europe.
Roll on Sunday, and what a day of football it will be.
Statistics provided by www.soccerbase.com and www.whoscored.com.
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