Real Madrid and Athletico Madrid are the two giants of club football in Madrid. Both boast a wealth of talent, wide support-bases and incredible facilities but what are the main differences between the two? Here I examine where the main support for each club truly lies, which key players each club possesses and how successful each has been in recent years.

The early golden years

Real found itself under the presidency of Santiago Bernabeu Yeste in 1945 who gave his name to the famous rebuilt stadium and developed a fierce vision of signing the best players in the world in order to conquer Europe. This proved to be a fruitful and genuine ambition as the team went on to win five European cups in a row before the 50s were out. Success in La Liga would continue into the 60s, 70s and 80s until we finally arrived at the world-renowned ‘Los Galacticos’. Athletico did not have the same screaming start in the 50s as their Madrid rivals, but throughout the 60s and 70s they became key rivals for Barcelona who were also chasing the evasive blancos. It is a great irony that Athletico’s great players of the age, under the wonderful management of Helenio Herrera, arrived at the same time as Real Madrid’s and the latter team seemed to be outshining them (along with all other Spanish sides). Despite this negative image, Athletico victories in La Liga and the Copa Del Rey were peppered throughout the 60s and 70s and they seemed to be the only side even vaguely capable of reaching Real Madrid’s illustrious heights.

Political context for rivalry

For some, the politics behind the rivalry is something which transcends the records of the clubs’ respective heroes and however much money is spent ‘improving’ the squads. A fascinating comparison can be made purely on the basis of the clubs’ positioning in Madrid. Real’s famed stadium is housed in the wealthy northern part of the city and has traditionally been painted as the rich man’s club. Conversely, Athletico are from the poorer southern part of Madrid, which has led to their (often self-imposed) image as the rebellious and proudly working class club. The former club’s success in Europe was made into political capital by a number of Spanish ministers, which has reinforced the club’s image as that of the government. This was likely the basis for the chant, “Go Madrid, go Madrid, the government’s team, the country’s shame”. Though however much left-wing vigour is put forward by Athletico, on the pitch the amount of money at the disposal of their rivals is self-evident. The rivalry in terms of scores across the clubs’ meetings makes it not even look like a rivalry at all, with Athletico having won only 53 of the matches compared with Real’s 107 victories.

Players who make a difference

Both clubs do possess (and have possessed) extraordinarily good players as demonstrated by the current squads and those of last season. Los Blancos obviously have the outstanding front three of Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale however all three have experienced trouble in the last year in some form. They are backed up by 2014 World Cup star James Rodriguez and other tried-and-tested midfielders Modric and Kroos, with a number of excellent subsititutes at their disposal. The back line is another formidable force including Carvajal and, currently the subject of various Manchester Utd transfer rumours, Sergio Ramos. All this is in front of unarguably one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Iker Casillas. And with his departure to Porto the implementation of David De Gea looks to work very well indeed. Athletico almost match the side in terms of names and talent. A huge presence up front exists in Griezmann, usually well-supported by Garcia, club captain Gabi and Jorge Koke in midfield. A similarly robust defence comes with, to name but two players, Godin and Juanfran and with solid goalkeeping options in either Oblak or Moya. And until they moved to the Premier League, talents Courtois, Costa and Falcao were integral parts of this side. The first two have enjoyed great success at Chelsea whilst Falcao has struggled to make an impression at Old Trafford.

Both clubs have great support bases in Madrid but also across the world. Whilst Real Madrid edge it in terms of big names and dominance in Europe, the current squads and shared history make any contest between the two a fantastically exciting affair.