On Saturday at the Wanda Metropolitano, a new rivalry will be born — or an old one with a new wrinkle in it will continue.
Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid will take on Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona for the first time and los rojiblancos welcome the blaugrana to the city’s outskirts for the first time in history. It is also Barcelona’s first trip to the capital since the region’s vote for independence went pear-shaped and made international news.
Valverde will be the fifth manager to have stood on the sideline trying to steer a Barcelona side beyond Simeone’s Atletico; there was Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerard Martino and Luis Enrique. He has had varying levels of success against each of the five, but you have to think the Argentine is glad to be done with the latter in particular.
Against Luis Enrique sides, there was always a sense of danger that they might come undone, a sense that they knew how to dismantle Atlético’s sturdy defence, even a sense of inferiority. For the last three years, Barcelona under the Asturian were robust enough to withstand Atleti counterattacks and had enough finesse to carve Simeone’s defense open like a butcher butterflying a pork loin. Simeone only won three times in his league battles with Luis Enrique, drew another two and lost nine. Two of those wins came when Enrique coached Celta Vigo.
If you take a look at the top 10 coaches who Simeone’s Atlético have played the most against, his record against Luis Enrique is by far the worst, with just a measly 0.79 points per game in 14 contests.
Against Valverde though, it a different story.
Simeone has stood on the sideline and shouted instructions at his colchoneros on 327 occasions. Valverde has done it 11 times for Barcelona so far. That’s the exact number of times Valverde and Simeone have played against each other too — with Simeone never coming out on the losing end. He has won eight times and drawn three.
Barça are also the third team that Valverde has managed against Simeone’s Atleti in addition to Valencia and Athletic Bilbao. Some have pointed out that Valverde’s previous record is a moot point because he can now call on Lionel Messi to help guide him past Simeone — this can’t be discounted.
With Atlético struggling with injuries in defence and for goals up front, there may never be a better time for Valverde to come and take three points from Simeone. But El Cholo may yet be able to concoct a plan to outwit Valverde and guide Atleti to a statement victory — one may argue there may not be a better time for that, either.