Atletico de Madrid were up for a fight at kick-off, but once they gave in, they would just wither. The derbies, rich in history, became embarrassing. They even put up a sign — Wanted: A worthy rival for a decent derby.
Well, Diego Simeone’s arrival at Atleti changed everything, including the derby.
Now it is a match without restrictions, one of the most watched football matches around the world.
“This will be an interesting, intense game on Sunday,” said Atleti .’s left back Reinildo Mandava told TOI during an online interaction with select media outlets from around the world. “We are playing against a great team with great players and champions of the league. We know what to do and work very hard to make sure we get all three points, which are important for us in (the race to) La Liga (title). This won’t be easy for anyone.”
Reinildo needs to know what a derby looks and feels like.
The Mozambican defender came to Los Colchoneros during the January transfer window last year and was featured in the lone win over Real Madrid at the Metropolitano. It came late in the season when their city rivals were already crowned champions, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side has not tasted defeat since that loss.
If Real Madrid arrived as LaLiga champions on their trip to the Metropolitano, the last time in May, they will arrive on Sunday with another enviable record. The all-conquering squad of Ancelotti is the only team in the top five of European competitions with a perfect track record and already has a five-point lead over their eternal city rivals.
“We know it’s a great team with great players and a great coach, probably the favourites, but are we worried? Certainly not. We just have to be extra careful on the pitch. We know the difficulties we face, we know we have to suffer (on the pitch), but that doesn’t worry us,” said Reinildo, who has more blocks this season than any other player in LaLiga.
Real Madrid have looked unstoppable this season, winning the first five games of a new league season for the first time since 2009. But if there’s one team that can bring them back to Earth, it’s the team with Simeone’s powerful, stealthy presence on the sidelines. He did that in May last season for their Champions League hopes, and will enjoy the chance to win two derbies in a row for the first time since 2014-15.
Not the most glamorous name in an Atleti team that has something like Joao FelixKoke, Saul and Antonie Griezmann, Reinildo enjoys Simeone’s confidence and is now the man of choice, whether at left-back or, when needed, even in the center of defence.
The 28-year-old came to Atleti from Lille after being named Ligue 1 Team of the Year last season. At a time when the aft club was unusually sloppy, Reinildo helped keep the ship stable.
“It wasn’t just me,” Reinildo said. “When I got here I had the chance to represent this great club and my fellow players trusted me. The improvements (in defence) was real teamwork, defensive work together with the coach.”
Atleti needs another disciplined show against free-scoring Real Madrid, even though the best striker of all, Karim Benzema, is unable to make the trip due to injury.
“Here we always play to win. We have prepared to win. We are going out to win,” said Reinildo, who enjoys a 100 percent victory record in the Madrid Derby.
That win in May was Atleti’s first against Real Madrid since moving to their impressive new stadium in 2017. Now that they know what a derby win feels like for their home crowd at the Metropolitano, they will want a repeat.