As the north London derby in the English capital came to a close, it was time for the Spanish capital to take centre stage. No fewer than three La Liga games took place in Madrid on Saturday, and two of them involved the biggest three teams in the country.
As Barcelona left Madrid to fly back home after beating Leganes 3-0, they would have passed the Wanda Metropolitano on the way to the airport. There, Atletico Madrid welcomed Real to their new home for the very first time.
There was to be only one winner. Barcelona.
A drab 0-0 was played out as both sides were fearful of losing, and that makes sense. It’s one thing to lose to your city rivals, but it’s quite another to lose to that rival and be dumped out of the title race as a result. In truth, though, the cagey draw may well have had a similar effect.
What that means now is that Barcelona are ten points clear of their two big rivals, and look like they might well have a title race played out between themselves and Valencia, not the double European champions Real Madrid. For Chelsea and Spurs, too, it might not mean all that much: if the Madrid clubs are going to spend the rest of their season focusing on European glory, they’ll both have to hope for miracles.
For Real, they’ll need Tottenham to slip up twice, once against Borussia Dortmund and once against APOEL in order to top the group, whilst Atletico will be hoping for two slip-ups from Chelsea if they’re to go through at all. That now looks nigh-on impossible, though Qarabag away is hardly the nicest trip for the English champions to have to make.
But the big effect on English clubs might well come in the spring.
Whilst Atletico Madrid may not be in the Champions League – they may be in the Europa League where they can draw Arsenal or possibly even Celtic – you’d have to expect that Real Madrid will be. And by finishing second in the group, they could face a game against any of the English group-toppers who aren’t Tottenham: Chelsea can still finish first, whilst Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool are all still in good positions to do so.
Despite the lack of form that Zinedine Zidane’s side have shown so far this season, they still may not be a team you want to draw. Indeed, coming second in the group stage isn’t evidence of being a bad team but of being in bad form. By the spring, they may well have rectified that. They are due a purple patch.
A big day of football in the Spanish capital, then, had repercussions in Barcelona and potentially even effects in Britain’s cities, too. The further Ernesto Valverde’s Blaugrana pull away from the rest in La Liga, the more emphasis that puts on Real Madrid compensating for their domestic failings in Europe. And no-one should forget how dangerous they can be.
Chelsea, Liverpool and the Manchester clubs will still want to avoid them.