Who Do Real Madrid Match Up Better Against, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid?
La Liga may quickly be shedding the skin of being a two-horse race and becoming a new entity with Atletico Madrid now more than just relevant in Spain.
Real Madrid are looking to wrestle the La Liga title away from rivals Barcelona, but it won’t be easy. Not only do Carlo Ancelotti’s men have to fend off the Catalans, they also must be wary of their city rivals right down the road.
Atletico Madrid have already beaten Real Madrid this season in a 1-0 victory merely months after lifting the Copa del Rey. Los Colchoneros are now a real threat in Spain, which makes Real Madrid’s test twice as difficult.
Now with two opponents to compete against, it is interesting to wonder just who Real Madrid matches up better against. Is it Barcelona or Atletico Madrid? Let’s look at the arguments.
Please note that all club statistics are courtesy of Squawka.
The Battle for Midfield
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti continues to tinker with his midfield. There are several different lineups he has used, and the Spanish giants have looked strong in the center of the pitch this year.
However, they aren’t the best in Spain.
For years Barcelona has dominated the world when it comes to midfield play. Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta have formed a wonderful trio in recent seasons, and with Cesc Fabregas things have improved further.
Atletico Madrid also boast a very strong midfield.
With Arda Turan and Koke excellent behind the strikers, Atletico have plenty of attacking options. Gabi also provides defense in the middle of the park, but depth is not a strong suit for Diego Simeone’s men.
When matched up against Real Madrid, one side is definitely favored. Los Blancos would perform much better against their city rivals than Barcelona. The Catalans keep possession well, while Atletico would allow Real Madrid the opportunity to create several chances.
With defenders like Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane not many would expect Real Madrid to give up many goals. While the boys in white do have a strong defense, they also have some glaring weaknesses.
Atletico Madrid’s style of attack is very straightforward. Diego Simeone has structured his lineup to counter attack and take chances as well as score from set pieces.
Diego Costa and the rest of the Atletico attackers are terrific finishers. They make the most of their opportunities and don’t waste their chances to find the back of the net, as evidenced by their 66 percent shot accuracy rating.
Barcelona’s style of play is much more intricate.
The tiki-taka system requires a lot of patient passing while looking for the killer moment to exploit a defensive error. While it is extremely difficult to defend against Barcelona, Real Madrid have been doing it for a while.
Barcelona creates more chances than Atletico Madrid (107 to 90) but only has a shot accuracy rating of 56 percent. Attackers must always make the most of their chances, and Atletico do that a bit better than their Catalan counterparts.
It is also interesting to note that Real Madrid struggle to defend set pieces. This season Atletico have already scored five times from set play while La Blaugrana have only managed a penalty goal.
Claiming that Real Madrid would much rather face Lionel Messi and Neymar than Atletico Madrid sounds a bit insane. That may not be the matchup Ancelotti would prefer, but it would be the better of the two choices.
Real Madrid is one of the best clubs in the world at counter attacking. Oddly enough, Los Blancos also struggle at defending the counter.
Atletico Madrid have showed that they can exploit the counter against Real Madrid in recent matches. Though Barcelona’s attacking is much better than Atletico’s, Real Madrid match up much better against the Catalans' style of play.
Things have been changing at Real Madrid since Carlo Ancelotti took over. Los Blancos no longer solely attack on the counter; they now look to create chances from possession as well.
Barcelona’s defense has not been that strong in recent seasons. The full-backs love to go forward, and the center-backs are not completely reliable.
Barcelona has only conceded six goals in La Liga this season, and according to Squawka, La Blaugrana are winning an average of 74 percent of their tackles each match. The numbers may look strong, but the last year has proved that clubs like Real Madrid can beat Barcelona with speed.
On the other hand, Atletico Madrid may very well have one of the best defensive units in all of Europe.
Not only does Atletico Madrid win an average of 84 percent of their tackles, but they also do not make many mistakes. The back four know how to defend and can deal with any type of attack.
Though both clubs have only conceded six goals in Spain this year, the answer is simple. Real Madrid matches up better against Barcelona’s mistake-prone defense than Atletico Madrid’s stable and reliable back line.
Playing against Barcelona or Atletico Madrid is no easy task. Both clubs are very good, and it is no fluke that they are directly competing for the La Liga title at the moment.
Real Madrid will have to overtake their two biggest rivals if they are to once again lift the La Liga trophy, and there is plenty of time left in the season to do just that.
Who do Real Madrid match up better against?
But when it comes to matchups, the result is quite surprising. Looking at all three clubs it becomes clear that the more favorable matchup for Real Madrid is Barcelona.
Barcelona's style of attack and weak defense have already been exploited by Real Madrid over the past year, and there is a familiarity factor which also plays into the comparison.
However, Atletico Madrid’s strong defense and ability to attack Real Madrid in various ways provides a tougher problem for Los Blancos.
This is going to be a long season for all three clubs. It is safe to say that any of the three could lift the La Liga trophy this season, but what is most important is the fact that Spanish football is becoming more competitive.
It is almost wrong to say that Real Madrid would rather play in El Clasico than the Madrid derby, but that seems to be the case. Regardless, it is a wonderful thing for Spanish football.
Who do Real Madrid match up better against? Can Los Blancos win La Liga this season? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
Tre' Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on La Liga!
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