Not only were they drawn against Spanish powerhouse Barcelona, they were playing at the Nou Camp, and came into the match already trailing on aggregate.
And yet, somehow, Los Blancos emerged triumphant.
They won through to the final of the Copa del Rey and doubled up on Barca with victory in La Liga that weekend had seemingly announced themselves as players once more in Spanish football—leaving many to think that they would romp to an easy victory over Atletico Madrid in the final of the competition.
However, as we now know, that wasn't to be the case for Madrid.
After falling behind to an early Cristiano Ronaldo goal, Atletico clinched victory in extra-time courtesy of Miranda's glancing header that found the back of the net.
The goal would go on to give the "smaller" Madrid club their first win over their rivals in 14 years. Sure, it would come on the back of some strong defense, a lot of luck, and a couple of controversial refereeing decisions that seemed to go their way throughout the night. But in the end, they were the Madrid club being crowned champions.
The nature of the win, and the favoritism that Real Madrid had coming into this home fixture left many declaring a huge upset had taken place.
But in many ways—such as the context of their entire season this year—it really wasn't that big of a surprise and upset for Los Blancos.
It was simply just another frustrating defeat in a very frustrating season.
That much was clear from Jose Mourinho's post-game comments, who, having already been sent off by the referee for arguing a free kick decision, stated that this year had been "the worst season of my career" (per Goal). And whilst he did acknowledge that his opinion was subject to his lofty expectations, he refused to say that 2012-13 had been a positive season for the Spanish powerhouse.
For many coaches it would have been a good season but for me it is the worst. I always showed up in the press room every time we drew or we lost. This year's campaign was a failure, but my first two seasons were successful.
I don't think Atletico deserve to be champions but they won the title.
From a trophy standpoint, it's easy to see Mourinho's argument.
Having dominated the Spanish domestic competition last season and only just lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, Real Madrid entered this year with plenty of promise, and expectation. They had signed Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Luka Modric for £30 million, and had seemingly just strengthened a squad that was already very strong and had achieved great success.
And yet despite all of that, they started the year in embarrassing fashion—winning just one of their first four league games and three of their first seven.
By comparison, Barcelona hadn't been defeated.
That—as it turns out—was where Madrid's La Liga title defense fell apart, for they were never able to recover the huge lead that Barcelona had chalked up.
The same also goes for the UEFA Champions League where once again, Madrid were left to rue their missed opportunities as they were eliminated in the semifinals of the competition—another opportunity for success, but the effort from the Spanish powerhouse seemed lackluster.
In all honesty, they were probably a little bit fortunate to have even made it that far with some key decisions falling their way against both Manchester United and Galatasaray in their previous knockout matches. But still, the fact that they stumbled at one of the final hurdles having come into the match with such impressive form, screamed of frustration for Mourinho and the Madrid-based club.
They bottled it well, but it was seemingly only a matter of time before it was released, and it simply took a little bit of pressure for Los Blancos to crack.
Madrid—frustrated they could not beat their opponents or even dominate in the possession column—picked up a staggering six yellow cards against Atletico.
Their two biggest names—Ronaldo and Mourinho—were both shamefully sent off, and the dominance of Los Blancos had finally been triumphed by their rivals.
What a poetic ending for Mourinho. Ronaldo too, possibly. Ignominy, rancor, bitterness, agitation, petulance.— James Tyler (@JamesTylerESPN) May 17, 2013
It was a shock, but in hindsight, it was something that was always coming from Madrid. They had been so close and yet so far time and time again this season, and were no doubt feeling powerless to achieve any sort of substantial success in the 2012-13 season.
And it showed.
Where they'll go from here still remains to be seen, but you can't imagine it's going to be a super-fun-happy road for Los Blancos over the summer window.
Mourinho is seemingly ready to leave the club for a return to Chelsea, and the rumors continue to flow in regarding Ronaldo's future. Madrid doesn't have a legitimate world-class striker, they have the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year left angry on the bench and their defense isn't anywhere near good enough to compete against the top attacking teams in world football.
Madrid appear to have every right to be frustrated with their current situation, at one level, but they cannot simply hide behind that reasoning for their failures.
This is a proud and historic club that has an illustrious history that few clubs in world football can attest to. They may have endured heartbreak and despair this season, but they will be back—regardless of what happens to their manager and/or star players this summer window.
Their frustration right now must be what leads them to success once more.
For if they can't accept losing, they'll never be able to win.
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