A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece documenting the recent rise of Atletico Madrid and their desire to qualify for the Champions League next season. However since then, Atleti’s form has been nothing short of scintillating, featuring 8 successive league wins and in Europe the club have been similarly dominant with Radamel Falcao at the helm. Currently level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga, Atleti’s blistering start has given them reasons to be cheerful amidst rivals Real Madrid’s patchy form but can they sustain it throughout the season?
Whilst we all know that the league season is a sprint, not a marathon, Atletico have stormed off from the beginning of the season, even thrashing Chelsea convincingly amid a congested fixture list. It appears that the momentum generated from the Europa League win last season has boosted the club onwards this year and given the team the best possible start. Only goal difference separates Barca from Atletico as the two teams share near identical records.
Despite the primary goal set out in pre-season being qualification for the Champions League, Atletico are doing a tremendous job in challenging for the title at this current stage. Falcao has 10 goals already as he himself keeps pace with Messi and Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts. He will need to avoid injury and sustain his form if Madrid are to remain in the top three for the remainder of the season.
However, as Real Madrid have Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema to aid Ronaldo, Barcelona have David Villa chipping in when necessary. Atletico cannot rely on Falcao in every game and so must find a suitable deputy. That may be difficult as currently the second top scorer is Raul Garcia with three league goals. Adrian scored 19 goals in all competitions last season but has yet to register a league goal this year. If teams decide to defend resolutely for 90 minutes then Atletico could really struggle in breaking their opponents down.
With that in mind, Barca and Real swatted aside their weekend opponents by 5 goals recently whilst Atletico could only defeat bottom side Osasuna 3-1. It may count as another win but to match the likes of Madrid and Barca, goals are necessary and goal difference is all that separates the top two at the moment.
Considering Atletico have had a relatively easy run of fixtures, avoiding the big teams as yet, they have little experience of playing against the bigger teams this year. Chelsea were put to the sword but coping with Madrid or Barcelona in a competitive league game is an altogether different challenge. Valencia are scheduled for the upcoming weekend and although they may be struggling themselves, it will be a stern test for Diego Simeone’s side. Real Madrid and Barcelona await in a devilish fortnight in December prior to the winter break and will be a mouthwatering encounter if the team manages to maintain their form up until then. The Madrid derby will especially be interesting presuming Atletico maintain their 8 point gap over their capital neighbours.
One thing that Atletico do specialise in however is endurance. Over the course of last season, Diego Simeone instilled a mentality similar to his own when he was a player. Atletico simply do not give up and have scored several stoppage time strikes this season to seal points, proving their endeavour as a key advantage. Simeone has improved the consistency of the side, as demonstrated over the past 8 games, and fields a team that will give a high level of performance without fail.
The season may only be 9 games old but Atletico have proved many people wrong already. The team doesn’t have the finance, quality, strength in depth or firepower to compete with Barca and Real – but they are currently doing so! We will learn more about the team as the season progresses but Diego Simeone is creating something very special at the Vicente Calderon.
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