Valencia-Atletico – a rivalry between Penev’s fists and Zigic’ tits

Tomorrow Valencia meets Atlético Madrid for the 184th time in official matches through history. So far the colchoneros are on top with 72 victories to Valencia’s 63, while 44 encounters have ended in a draw. Both have been, and still are, among the best teams in Spain. And even if all matches between the two are considered big ones, it’s in the recent years that it has been starting to look like a real ‘clásico’. The matches always mean something to both teams, especially tomorrow as the fight between them for the third spot. And with Real Madrid tripping on their way to another league title like it was 2004 (or last season if you’re Atleti), who knows? This might turn out to be a title decider! One thing is for sure. It will be tense, emotional and exciting. Here’s a flashback at some memorable moments and matches since 1995/96.

1995/96 – Jesús Gil crapping himself

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This season was not about FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at all. It was Atlético Madrid who seemed destined to win it a huge cushion (or mattress) of points. But as the team started to deflate, so did the cushion. And chasing them hard was a Valencia in a vicious form. Then they met at Vicente Calderón. The match had many anecdotes. Valencia’s coach was none other than Luís Aragonés, Señor Atleti himself. Meanwhile, Luboslav Penev, an earlier star in Valencia, was now a Atlético player.

Aragonés might have had the Madrid side in his heart more than any other club. But he won the psychological war for Valencia at the pre-match press conference when he constantly repeated that mad hatter Atlético president Jesús Gil was ‘acojonado’ – that he literally was so nervous that he was crapping himself. The match was no less feisty. The brilliant Pregrad Mijatovic scored two goals for Valencia, but Atlético replied both times through Pantic and Geli. It was all even, and very tense until a blistering header from Antonio Poyatos settled it in the 74th minute to secure Valencia a memorable victory. Still, the opposition had the last laugh as they won the league in the end, four points ahead after recovering their form. But Valencia fought for it until the last round of matches. Something that seemed unthinkable early in the season.

1995/96 –  A galore of goals and punches

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This season the teams also met in the semi final of Copa del Rey, and the first match was played at a packed Mestalla. The crowd was sensing a final early as Valencia obtained a 2-0 lead. But the blanquinegros collapsed and ended up losing 3-5 instead, practically settling it before the return match in Madrid. Lost it too did Valencia president Paco Roig and former Valencia idol Penev, who ended up in fisticuffs between up in the fancy dress stand. They later made up. But the clubs still had a lot of matters to settle.

1996/97 – Leandro pissing off (and on) the ultras

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This was not a particularly memorable season for neither team, as Valencia ended up in tenth spot, while Atlético managed fifth, and a UEFA Cup spot. The latter was hoping for more when they received Los Che at Vicente Calderón, but the visitors quickly established a 3-0 lead, which still held until the break. The home supporters was destitute, but sensed a ‘remontada’ (a turnaround) when José Luis Caminero scored quickly after play commenced again. And Atlético put pressure on Valencia to catch up, driven on by a frenzied crowd.

But it was Valencia who again pinched the air out of the mattress when the Brazilian striker Leandro Machado scored for 1-4. But one thing was the result. What the match is remember for is the great, but erratic Brazilian’s way to celebrate his goal. He ran over to Frente Atlético, the right wing ultras, and imitated a dog peeing on them. Naturally, the unruly boys went berserk, and the rivalry between the two teams just got several degrees hotter.

1998/99 – Where the elevators met

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It was the Copa del Rey final at the Sevillan stadium of La Cartuja (The Charterhouse), and it was to be a water mark for both teams. For Valencia it was the dawn of maybe its finest era in their history. Gaizka Mendieta and Claudio ‘Piojo’ López ran riot for a Valencia team that was totally superior to their adversary, and the final score line of 3-0 flattered the ‘madrileños’. It was also the first title for Valencia since 1980, and the core of the team would later come within a German knee to conquer Europe.

For Atlético it was the beginning of the end, as their play collapsed like a house of cards. The chaos brewing in the club eventually relegated them the next season.

2003/04 – Copy and Paste for Los Che

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The team that had reached two Champions League finals was gone, but under up and coming manager star Rafael Benítez, Valencia still made mince meat of Atleti. The black and white won resoundingly 3-0 away in Madrid in the first half of the season, vital points as it made them gather momentum later on. Vicente Rodríguez and Mista were both sublime. And in the return match at Mestalla the score was repeated, and galvanized Valencia’s stroll to the league title. Man of the match? Vicente. Mista? The Madrid lad later left for none other than Atlético, but failed to resume the form he had at Valencia.

2007/08 – Nothing like a mattress when you’re in free fall

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It was an anno horribilis for Valencia, as they were heading for relegation in the league under Ronald Koeman. But a tight victory over two legs in the quarter final of Copa del Rey bizarrely catapulted them to a title. The ‘blanquinegres’ was riding on their slender 1-0 lead from the first match, and it was a nervous return match at Calderón. Especially as Kun Agüero and Diego Forlán was in blistering form for the home team. Atletico quickly built up a 2-0 lead. But a fortunate own goal, and then a sublime pass fra Ever Banega to Juan Mata, who knocked into the corner of the net, calmed orange nerves. Valera made it 3-2 after Hildebrand screwed up in the second half, but Koeman’s lads held on to win on the away goals rule. They went on to memorably beat Barça in the semi final before securing the trophy with 3-1 over Getafe in the final. That cup is still the newest trophy Valencia have in their glory cabinet.

2009-10 Ziggy tits goes unpunished

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This time the teams crossed each other in the Europa League’s quarter final, and it turned out to be perhaps the most infamous of evenings. The first leg at Mestalla ended in a 2-2 draw, and both teams were more preoccupied with keeping a clean sheet rather than scoring in Madrid. But Valencia knew they needed to score, and Unai Emery’s men started to press for the winner at the end. The tactic to obtain it was simple: a barrage of crosses into the area where Nikola Zigic with his skyscraper height of 2,02 meters was to exploit them.

And on one of those crosses, Atletico defender Juanito simply tugged the serb down with every means possible inside the area, making a huge breach in Zigic’ shirt. But the German referee Florian Meyer was perhaps too mesmerized by Zigic’ exposed nipple to give the obvious penalty. Valencia was robbed of the great opportunity to score the decisive goal, was knocked out, while Atlético Madrid went on to win the competition after beating Fulham 2-1 in the final. “Revancha por la teta de Zigic” – or “revenge for Zigic’ tit” – is a phrase that since pops up among Los Che before every meeting between the two teams.

2011-12 The ascendancy of Cholo’s boys

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Emery was desperate to get a title as it was impossible in the league. Despite decent third place finishes, Barcelona and Real Madrid were in a league of their own. And with a squad hurting from the dire economic situation, Champions League was an adventure that only lasted until they met top class opposition. Hence the Europa League was his chance. But in the semi final against an Atlético team that started to show that the era for Valencia as Spain’s third best team was beginning to end, it was duly confirmed over two matches. The first leg at Vicente Calderón was disastrous for Los Che as Falcao ran riot. Los Colchoneros won 4-2. A late Ricardo Costa header salvaged a slimmer of hope for the return leg, but Valencia couldn’t break through the increasingly rugged Atleti defence. Instead Adrián settled it for the home team with a ‘golazo’. Simeone & co went on to win another title after beating Athletic Bilbao in the final. For Valencia it was a steady decline.

2014-15 Peek-a-boOtamendi

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As we all know, Atlético broke Real Madrid’s and Barça’s hegemony by winning the league last season. The first ones since Valencia a decade earlier. They were everything Valencia used to be, and wanted to become again. A solid, counter attacking usurper that had the ‘huevos’ to give the two giants a middle finger. Valencia had beaten their nemesis in individual matches, like when Soldado fired his enigmatic volley at Mestalla, or when Cerci got sent of in 2014. But everyone knew it was the rojiblancos who were the toast of Spain.

But as Nuno Espírito Santo took the helm after several more or less successful coaches who came and went in rapid succession, and with the debt solved by Peter Lim’s purchase of the club’s stocks, it was Atlético’s turn to be the decadent favourite and Valencia’s to be the up-and-coming starlet.

Mestalla was to witness some legendary opening minutes as their new heroes blitzed themselves to a 3-0 lead. All in thirteen frantic minutes. The last goal was the most memorable as superhero Nicolás Otamendi hid behind Rodrigo’s back on a corner kick to hide from being marked. And as Parejo curled the ball into the area, the Argentinean giant galloped like a bull before owning Diego Godín in the air to score an epic goal.

But Nuno’s disciples quickly ran out of steam after that, and Atleti almost turned around as quickly. Mario Mandzukic pulled one back for the visitors, and almost instantly after kick-off they got awarded a penalty. Guilhermo Siqueira was their solid taker, but the psychological steam ran out for Simeone’s men as the Brazilian defender was defeated by his fellow country man Diego ‘parapenaltís’ Alves. For the rest of the match, Atlético controlled and pushed for more. But even though Valencia was too out of breath to counter attack, they showed a new found solidity in defence. The victory was extremly important psychologically, and now La Liga’s youngest squad face the title holders again. Atlético leads by a single point in third spot, and have the advantage of playing at home. Still there’s contact with the two up front on the table. But more than anything, it’s another epic clash for that title of being the third big one in Spain.

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