MADRID CONNECTIONS: THE UNIQUE RELATIONSHIPS OF A COMMUNITY

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Spain’s various autonomous communities give the country a unique collection of culture, language and arts. This special variety of life can certainly apply to football as well. Madrid has always featured prominently in LaLiga, but never has it been represented quite so much in the top flight like the current campaign.

The 2018-19 season features five Madrid clubs, accounting for a significant portion of the division. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid are the headliners, two of the dominant sides in the league during recent years. Both clubs will be looking to de-throne Barcelona, while Real also aim to create even more history yet again in the UEFA Champions League.

With quite a few decades involved, their battles are ones that the world stops to watch. Featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann, Gareth Bale and Diego Costa, matches between the two teams have been filled with immense quality and gripping drama over the years. In the southern part of the city, there is another rivalry that may not get as much attention, but shares the same level of passion and commitment from supporters.

While the number of fans for each side may not be as massive as those that are seen for Real and Atlético, matches between Getafe and Leganés carry an immense amount of energy throughout the stands and directly to the pitch. With their stadiums separated by only four kilometres and spirited encounters that go back several decades, these games are given extra meaning thanks to both clubs now playing in the first division.

LaLiga’s fifth squad from the Spanish capital is Rayo Vallecano, returning to the top flight after finishing first in the Segunda División in 2017-18. Their supporters are known for their vocal support, both for their club and for other events around them. Political and social statements are not uncommon at all for the Estadio de Vallecas, and Rayo’s fans provide a boisterous atmosphere.

The Spanish capital will be a true focus for LaLiga throughout the 2018-19 campaign, with elements from all five clubs providing different and fascinating elements.

EL DERBI MADRILENO

Throughout much of LaLiga’s history, Real Madrid have been one of the dominant forces in terms of titles. Los Blancos have captured a record 33 league trophies, with 19 Copa del Rey triumphs along the way as well. Their successes carry over to European competitions also, where they have come to perfectly define continental glory.

Real have lifted the Champions League crown 13 times, more than any other club in the tournament’s history. From the days of Alfredo Di Stéfano to this decade’s run with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the charge, Los Merengues prioritise victory in the competition like no other club.

While their El Clásico battles with Barcelona certainly grab the attention of football fans throughout the world, their local derby against Atlético Madrid delivers a significant level of intensity every time the two sides meet.

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Real’s close affiliation with General Francisco Franco made them the perceived club of the regime, while Atlético did not enjoy the same advantages the perception brought. Ironically, Los Rojiblancos were the preferred side of the dictator thanks to their military connection in the 1940s. But Real’s successes in the 1950s put them on another tier, and Atlético could not keep up with their noisy neighbour in regards to silverware.

The’70s almost saw Los Colchoneros reach the summit of European football instead of their rival, only to fall to Bayern Munich in the 1974 final. While Real did not capture the European Cup throughout that decade, they were very successful domestically, winning five LaLiga trophies.

In the present day, there is a commonly held viewpoint that Real simply out-muscle Atlético financially, and there are some grains of truth to that. While Los Blancos spend enormous sums and break transfer records quite often, Atlético definitely splash plenty of cash on their end as well. Both clubs spend hundreds of millions of euros each year for their squads, creating a matchday atmosphere involving many of the game’s top players. For Atlético, the opening of the Wanda Metropolitano in 2017 represents a true achievement and a new vision for the future ahead.

While Real were dominant in the derby for many years, it has become an unpredictable affair in many ways. This decade saw Madrid make history in Europe, as the only city to ever have two sides compete in the UEFA Champions League final. On both occasions, Real walked away as champion in dramatic fashion.

Just like for El Clásico, there are not many individuals who have played for both sides of the Madrid derby, but the ones that have definitely left an impression. Hugo Sánchez comes to mind in this regard, and his decision to leave Atlético for the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is still met with anger by fans. A plaque outside of the Wanda Metropolitano bearing Sánchez’s name has been a popular target for vandals, as graffiti and rubbish are found on it often.

A rivalry painted as “the establishment versus the rebellion” by some, the Madrid derby pits two talented teams against each other with the fiery passion of a great city behind them. Real have come out on top many times, but the quality found in Atlético’s current line-up makes them a legitimate contender in LaLiga and in Europe.

DERBI DEL SUR DE MADRID

The southern part of Madrid is home to a special derby that can boast a very unique claim. While the two clubs meeting now have not always been involved, the footballing history of two cities dates back to the early 1920s. Getafe and Leganés are somewhat “new” against each other now, but the South Madrid derby has made them familiar foes during past decades.

Financial troubles led to liquidation for Getafe in the 1980s, with the current club forming as a merger of different local sides. Beginning life in the seventh tier of Spanish football, Los Azulones worked their way to the top flight over the years, eventually reaching LaLiga in 2004. Now led by manager José Bordalás, Getafe look for the talents of captain Jorge Molina, Bruno and Ángel to guide them towards success.

Leganés took a similarly long path to reach the first division. Finally achieving their goals, Los Pepineros played their first top-flight campaign in 2016-17. For a club that was founded almost a century ago, it was an important accomplishment for the supporters and for the city. In the current season, manager Mauricio Pellegrino has leaned on former Liverpool midfielder Nabil El Zhar and defender Rodrigo Tarín to deliver positive results (along with Super Pepino on the sidelines of course).

While relegation is again a genuine concern in 2018-19, Leganés have been able to surprise many along the way. A remarkable home victory versus Barcelona in September was arguably the greatest league result in their history, a 2-1 win that sent shockwaves throughout Spanish football. But this was not necessarily something new for Leganés, coming off an impressive upset of Real Madrid last term in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Described by many as a “friendly” rivalry, the South Madrid derby produces a special atmosphere for those that attend the matches. Supporters can be seen together in a social and open setting, as the teams do not see tensions affect the crowd on a regular basis. Part of this is likely due to past fixtures playing out in the lower divisions, but LaLiga results will be vital for both Getafe and Leganés moving forward.

RAYO VS THE WORLD

Even in a community as expansive and as large as Madrid, people can feel as if they are on their own in a way. A notion that they are the last protectors of certain ideals or philosophies. Rayo Vallecano can fit that description, and their impact within the city is an important one in modern times.

Founded in 1924 and featuring kits influenced greatly by River Plate’s diagonal red stripe, Rayo made their LaLiga debut in the 1970s after working their way up through the lower tiers. A club that have bounced between various divisions over the years, supporters can definitely be taken on a journey of emotions with their team. But, that connection is as strong as any throughout world football.

The last of the neighbourhood clubs in multiple ways, Rayo are a representative of the working-class people from their area. The Estadio de Vallecas is a place where fans can be heard, and it is not always just for football. Supporters have been known to make political and social statements with their tifos and songs, focusing on different issues that come about. A popular chant for Rayo fans is “La Vida Pirata”, or “The Pirate Life”, and it provides an excellent summary of how they view themselves within the context of their community.

When considering this aspect, matches against the likes of Real Madrid take on an added importance for Rayo supporters. The target of many protests during recent years has been the commercialisation of the professional game, a topic that has once again grabbed the headlines due to LaLiga’s decision to play future league matches in North America.

Any Madrid derby is important for Rayo, just as every game means something to the people of their community. Because of this passion and determination, visiting sides are prepared to be tested anytime they arrive in Vallecas.

The 2018-19 LaLiga season has already brought different fates for the five Madrid clubs, with each having specific goals for the months ahead. For Leganés and Rayo, the objective to remain in the top flight is a very clear one. Both sides have had early difficulties in league matches, and gaining points before the holiday break will be a key element to survival.

Getafe had their fans dreaming of the European stage this past season, finishing eighth in LaLiga and performing well throughout the campaign. The Estadio Coliseum Alfonso Pérez was hopefully to be the setting of a push for greater progress, but the team’s form must improve in the near future. With only one win in their last six league fixtures, Getafe have to find a way to earn maximum points to keep a comfortable gap between themselves and potential relegation danger.

It is a different world for Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, as both sides will be aiming for a league title. Champions League commitments add another layer to their journey, and that tournament is definitely a priority for each club. For Real, it is an aspect that defines their persona, a genuine reason for existence some could say. With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving for Juventus, Los Blancos want to show that there was more to their European juggernaut than just a star forward leading the way to victory.

Atlético are stuck in the shadow of their rival in the Champions League, and only lifting the trophy will help to change that feeling. In LaLiga, getting back to the top of the table ahead of Real and Barcelona remains an important milestone for manager Diego Simeone and his players.

A place unlike any other, Madrid boasts a surreal and historic football culture, amplified this season in LaLiga thanks to five teams in the top flight. The 2018-19 campaign is a special one for the city, and particularly for the passionate fans that make up the heartbeat of those clubs.

BY ROY EMANUEL