For the last five or so years, there have only really been two teams in Spain challenging for the title in Barcelona and Real Madrid. However, currently sat on equal points with table-toppers Barca, Atletico Madrid should be considered genuine title contenders for the La Liga title.
It shouldn’t be so much of a surprise, Atletico were terrific last season as they finished third and beat Real Madrid to win the Copa Del Rey, but no-one thought any side could challenge the established top two. It’s even more impressive considering they sold their best player in the summer in Radamel Falcao, who also scored the majority of the side’s goals.
Where their success has started is in defence, with the side conceding just 12 goals through 20 games so far in all competitions. They have a solid back four in Filipe Luis, Miranda, Diego Godin and Juanfran who give them a solid base to build on in every game, even against tough opponents.
Even if a team gets past them, they have to try and score against one of the best goalkeepers in Europe at the moment in Thibaut Courtois. It’s crazy to think that the side have got him on loan for the third time of asking and unsurprisingly they were more than happy to welcome the Belgian back. Chelsea have a big decision in the summer, because he won’t be going out on loan again.
They’ve built on this solid base from the back by converting chances at the other end, too. David Villa has been an excellent addition, especially at the price they bought him for, returning to the form and position that brought him so much success in the past. The midfield in Koke, (who’s really playing well) Arda Turan, (who’s always excellent) Tiago and Gabi (who have worked well in defence too) have added to that potency in the attacking half of the pitch, giving the side plenty of options when they are on the offensive.
Diego Costa is the real X-factor this year though, who has raised his game to that next level and has given his side that something a little special. His regular hot-headedness has, so far, turned into focus and at the moment he’s scoring for fun against any opponent in a variety of different ways.
What also impresses me is the depth inside the team. Signings like Tony Alderweireld and Joshua Guilavogui combined with the youth of Leo Baptistao and Oliver Torres gives the side options to rotate and change personnel when needed, which is crucial for them to sustain a challenge throughout the season.
All credit must go to boss Diego Simeone, as his hard-working, hard-nosed style is really working with the players at his disposal. His side are fighting for him on the pitch every week, it’s clear to see and he’ll certainly be a man to watch in the future if he can continue to help Atletico to grow.
So the real question is, can they keep it up? They passed the first big test in beating Real and have kept pace when many thought they’d slip up eventually, so the next test is to get something when they meet Barcelona in January. If they are still within touching distance at that time and come away with something positive, no-one will argue that Atletico are rightful contenders to the Spanish crown.