With Barcelona and Real Madrid being, well, Barcelona and Real Madrid, if you don’t keep up with Spanish football properly you’d be forgiven for thinking that there was a 15 point gap between 1st and 2nd in La Liga. What you wouldn’t know, however, is that Real’s city rivals Atletico are sitting pretty in between the so called ‘big 2’, 7 points ahead of Los Merengues and 8 behind Barça.
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The last time someone finished ahead of either Barca or Real was Villarreal in 2007/08, and the last time the red and white Atletico finished ahead of Real was all the way back in 1996. With the way it’s going right now, this year could yet change the record books. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side have gone a stunning 10 games without conceding a single goal in all competitions at home, winning all 16 home games this season. They’re the 3rd highest scoring team in the league (as well as the highest home scorers in the league), +11 ahead of the 4th highest, as well as having the 2nd best defensive record in the league behind Malaga.
Ever since the Europa League victory in 2010, when they beat Fulham in the final, the club have been wanting more success. The players at the club were hungry and, whilst the team has changed since then, the hunger has continued to grow. Another Europa League victory (against fellow impressive Spaniards Atletico Bilbao, whom they demolished 3-0) as well as a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea in the European Super Cup in August meant the clubs’ credentials have continued to grow, which has resulted in them being instilled as realistic title challengers in La Liga alongside Tito Villaneuva’s Catalans.
Radamel Falcao, or El Tigre, has scored 18 league goals this season so far, making him the drawn 2nd top scorer and continuing to impress his already huge fanbase all over Europe. His goals have fired Atletico to the top, but it would be an injustice to both the rest of the players and Simeone himself to put it all down to the Colombian.
As everyone knows, the typical Spanish model is based on a patient, possession based game, working the opposition both physically and mentally all game. After Atletico’s first La Liga game of the season, a rather dull draw against Levante, Simeone recognised a need for change in his side. Instead of being one of those sides, he re-invented his team to a more direct approach, focusing on ‘clinicallity’ in possession as opposed to just having the ball more. This can be seen in the possession statistics for the league, where they are only the 14th highest, as well as passes completed, where they are only the 12th highest. This change has been crucial for Atletico, allowing them to stretch the game more and get the wide players to provide better support to Falcao and create more opportunities with the ball. As shown by their excellent defensive record, especially at home, Atletico are also a very good side off the ball. The successful transition of phases from defence to attack and back again can be seen in the fact that, since that disappointing opening day, Simeone’s team have dropped points in just 4 matches – 2 of which came away against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Everything isn’t all rosy for Atletico Madrid though. Falcao sustained an injury in their 2-0 win against Levante, putting him on the sidelines for 3 weeks. Their next highest goal scorers are Raul Garcia and Arda Turan, who have just 4 goals each in La Liga so far. Obviously every one of their players have contributed a lot in the other sides of the game, but the goal scoring department is generally left to the Colombian. He’s often the difference in a tight game, and this could cause a blip in their form. On top of that Real Madrid’s superior squad depth could well prove to be the key in the latter stages of the season.
It remains to be seen whether Atletico Madrid can keep this up until the end of the season, but there’s no reason for them not to. The likes of Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godin, Felipe, Raul Garcia, Gabi, Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez have all impressed (those are just the stand-outs for me along with Falcao, many others have played well too), whilst the young Koke in the midfield looks a real star in the making. There’s a lot of promise for them to have a huge season, and if anyone can lead them to it, it’s Diego Simeone. His influence on the club has been instrumental and they have a mix of both talent and harmony like never before compared with the unrest in recent years. The gap between them and Barcelona is probably too far out of reach, purely on the basis that it is Barcelona. However finishing above their city rivals is a real possibility for Los Rojiblancos. What is certain though is that a very few exciting months await those at the Vicente Calderon as well as all of us onlookers.
This article was guest written by @TheGameOnPaper and he is always willing to contribute to any website/blog. Get in touch with him via the information given below.
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