Atletico Madrid: The Dark Horse of La Liga
With the “Special One” Jose Mourinho taking charge of the galacticos of Real Madrid and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona adding the quality of David Villa to their already destructive attacking line up, it seems that the Spanish la liga will be more bipolar this time. But staying behind the limelight, Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores assembled a team that surely commands respect from any squad on any day. This is the team, with a perfect blend of youth and experience, still fresh from their first success in about a decade when they won the inaugural Europa League last year and are ready to challenge the big guns.
A detailed study of the los Colchoneros this year will show how dangerous they can be to the Spanish superpowers, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Only 19, David de Gea has proved last season why his coach has faith in him, to promote him to be the first choice goalkeeper of the team. Confident under pressure, less error prone and a near perfect performance in the second half of the last season makes him justly as the successor of Iker Casillas to save the Spanish fortress in future. De Gea saved a penalty on his debut in 2009 against Real Zaragoza and then never looked back as he dethroned another promising young goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo as the first choice goalkeeper. The healthy competition between them to be the best can only help Atletico.
Defence was the main weakness of the team last season when they conceded as many as 61 goals in the la liga, which was 5th highest in the league. However, January signing Alvaro Dominguez has already shown with some great performance that the coach can depend on him for next few years to save fortress. New €11m signing from Villareal,
Diego Godin can be the ideal to partner Dominguez as they start to dream big. The Uruguayan record holder in swimming, Godin showed his capabilities in the limited chances he got in the world cup. Adding to this the experience of Luis Perea and Juanito, and Atletico Madrid defence looks strong enough to face any attack. The new signing €12m from Deportivo la Coruna, Filipe Luis, was undoubtedly one of the best left back in the la liga before suffering a sickening injury in January. He along with current captain Antonio Lopez will look after the left side of the defence and experienced Thomas Ujfalusi and Juan Valera will be on the right.
A strong midfield is a necessity for succeeding in the Spanish league. Atletico Madrid can claim to have one for sure. Paulo Assuncao may not be a household name, but with his great positioning and tackling he is good enough as a defensive midfielder. And with Antonio Camacho back from the long term injury and Mario Suarez on bench Flores will have some good choices at the positions. Los Rosiblancos can really hope high after the great performances of Jose Manual Jurado, Jose Antonio Reyes and Raul Garcia at the advanced midfield position last season. With all his experiences Simao is good at the left and highly skilled newly signed playmaker Fran Merida is surely an asset, for any team.
The attacking duo who are highly experienced, World Cup golden ball winner Diego Forlan and young Argentine Sergio Aguero together, they are good enough to break through any defence. Though they missed playing with each other for a long time due to alternate injuries, but by the end of season they developed telepathic connection between themselves to help win the Europa League. Forlan has performed consistently well in Spain after a failure at Manchester United and after such a great world cup there is no reason not to hope for that once more. Youngsters Eduardo Salvio and Ibrahima Balde can act as timely substitutes for these two and may also emerge as a surprise star this year.
Though a man-to-man comparison with either Barcelona or Real Madrid may make this team look weaker, but the man at the helm of this team, Quique Sanchez Flores, can make a lot of difference. When Flores took over the duty from Abel Resino on 29th October, 2009 the team was languishing at the bottom of the league and were humiliated 4-0 by British giants Chelsea. However, he changed the fortune of the team and they emerged as the Europa League champions beating the likes of Valencia, Liverpool and Fulham on the way. If the team can continue in the same form we can expect some surprising results.
However, success in the league is all about consistency. It’s not only about the four matches against the giants but more importantly about the other 34 matches. And as the recent history suggests, to fight to be in the top two, a team has to win most of these 34 matches. This is where Valencia were outplayed last time and this is where Atletico have to show their mettle. It is not wise to hope that Atletico Madrid will topple Barcelona or Real Madrid from their positions but we can surely expect some fight from the “rest” of the la liga for the trophy. With Valencia depleted with some transfers and Sevilla and Villareal not showing that quality so far, Atletico Madrid seems to be the best poised to do so.