Diego Simeone may call people who think Atletico Madrid can win the league 'fools', but after Barcelona's defeat at the weekend, Atleti are level at the top of La Liga...
With Ronaldo and Messi both injured, will Atletico finally step into the limelight? Or, will the Spanish media just transfer their focus to Real Madrid's €100million man..?
By the time José Mourinho had slunk off from Real Madrid last May, the Portuguese coach was very much the Mack Daddy of Barcelona's booty. However, it took an awful lot of trial, error and Pepe being deployed as a Loony Tunes attack dog before Real Madrid got the better of the rivals he grew to love so dearly whilst in La Liga.
It looks like a timid Carlo Ancelotti is going to be following the exact same process, which is causing some frustration in the Spanish capital after defeat in the Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon.
By the time Mourinho took his toys, pram and play pen to Chelsea after three years at the Santiago Bernabéu, the memory of the 5-0 thrashing at the Camp Nou in 2011 had been replaced by one of Catalan impotency. Barcelona had failed to win the previous five Clásicos and had lost the last to be played in the Camp Nou 3-1. The way that Mourinho achieved this not insignificant achievement was to finally allow the attacking power of his side have a proper go at their rivals, rather than cowering in their own half and booting Leo Messi around the pitch for the entirety of the game.
The sting of the 5-0 demolition derby defeat caused Mourinho to become ultra-cautious, with Pepe rampaging around like a loon in midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo barred from crossing the halfway line, a tactic the Portuguese forward was none to pleased with. But eventually, the former Madrid manager saw that whenever his side attacked, the opposition were in trouble.
Perhaps scared by a similar scoreline to the one that haunted Mourinho for so long, Ancelotti began his first Clásico desperate to avoid defeat. The Italian decided to leave one striker, Karim Benzema, on the bench and the other, Alvaro Morata, out of the squad. Instead, Cristiano Ronaldo was given the role of forward backed by Angel di María and a clearly unfit Gareth Bale, who cannot be enjoying his first months with Madrid at all.
It was Sergio Ramos' turn to be the destroying central midfielder, who saw yellow after 13 minutes following two body-slamming challenges on Neymar. Without a playmaker in the form of Mesut Özil - or even Isco who was left on the bench - Real Madrid were largely an absent attacking force until late in the first half when they had a penalty claim for a handball by Adriano. This, and another call in the second half for a hefty shove on Ronaldo, are the straws that a large chunk of the local press are blaming for the 2-1 defeat.
However the timidity of the first 45 minutes did not go unnoticed by Marca, which slammed the club as "a joke in the first half". At least the damage in that period was limited with Barça holding just the one-goal lead after Neymar's shot took a slight deflection to curl past Diego López. Ten minutes into the second half, Ancelotti decided to trust the offensive power of his team at last, by bringing on Asier Illarramendi for Ramos followed by Karim Benzema for the completely out-of-sorts Bale.
Unsurprisingly Madrid began to create more opportunities and rattle Barça a bit, but a moment of brilliance from Alexis Sánchez in chipping López from 35 yards sealed the win for Barça, despite a late reply from another attacking substitute in Jesé.
The mood in the Barcelona camp is, unsurprisingly, a happy one. Dominance in the Clásicos has been restored at last after a very rough patch. Even better, the club had two in-form forwards, Neymar and Alexis, who were able to pick up the work load up front and take some of the responsibility off Leo Messi who had a subdued match for once.
Whilst blaming the referee for the defeat is part of the grumbling and griping in the Spanish capital, there is the feeling of an opportunity lost for Real Madrid, and that Ancelotti has not learnt from his predecessor's mistakes in making attack the best form of defence against a rival with a notoriously rocky back-line.
But at least Madrid's latest boss learned sooner rather than later that the fear factor is no way to prepare for a Clásico clash.
Round 9 Results:
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Valladolid
Málaga 0-5 Celta Vigo
Elche 0-1 Granada
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid
Levante 3-0 Espanyol
Sevilla 2-1 Osasuna
Villarreal 4-1 Valencia
Real Sociedad 3-0 Almería
Atlético Madrid 5-0 Betis
Getafe v Athletic Bilbao (Monday)
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter