For a while, it almost looked as if Atlético Madrid might have what it takes to challenge the top two in Spain.
Their Copa Del Rey victory over Real Madrid last season sparked scenes of jubilation all across Madrid. After all, it was their first win over their cross town rivals in 14 years. That looked like a stepping stone for bigger and better things to come and it seemed as though, they might yet come close to the top two and bridge the ever increasing gap between them and the rest of the league.
The stage was set for Diego Simeone’s men, who had claimed two Europa League crowns in the first three years of the tournament’s existence, to take Spain by storm. The summer saw the arrival of David Villa from Barcelona and Belgian full-back Toby Alderweireld from Ajax and a few others as well.
But the summer was dominated by the departure of their star striker Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco. The Colombian had scored over 70 goals over the past couple of seasons in as many games and over the last five years, he had scored more goals than everyone apart from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The loss was huge and although they got plenty of money for it, there was a feeling that Atlético didn’t get the rub of the green in that deal. And whilst they still had Diego Costa and David Villa in their ranks, there was a sense of doubt creeping through. There were even talks that the manager, who has already won three trophies in just 18 months, might find this a step too far and that they will be left in the gallows as Real and Barca march on.
And although Simeone had become a household name in Spain, and was praised all around for his tactics, there was a lingering suspicion that with the loss of their most potent threat, Atlético might well fall by the way side.
The start to the season was filled with doom and gloom, but Atlético have managed to quash all of that with a sensational start to the season that has seen them win six games on the bounce and victory over Real will mean their best start to a La Liga season in 77 years.
They are joint top with Barcelona, having scored 18 goals so far, second only to Barcelona’s 22 and have managed to concede a paltry five goals.
The start to the season has reflected in the scoring and the assist charts so far, both of which are led by Atlético’s players.
Diego Costa, Spain’s public enemy number one and the man who hammered home Atlético’s equalizer versus Real Madrid last year, is joint top with Messi on seven goals. Having scored more than one-third of his team’s goals so far, he is seemingly picking up from where he left off last year, when he scored more than 20 goals and was playing second fiddle to Falcao. He also instantly managed to strike up a chord with Léo Baptistão, the young Brazilian striker who was signed from Rayo Vallecano after a promising first season.
On top of the assist charts is the Madrid born midfielder Koke, who has come through the youth ranks and is starting to find his place in Atlético’s well-oiled machine alongside Tiago, who has been the pillar on which Atlético’s attacks are built around. Whilst they might not have Falcao, they still have Arda Turan, the man who was the chief creator for most of Falcao’s goals, Gabi who already has two assists this season and Raul Garcia who is moving into the peak of his career.
And with Thibaut Courtois extending his loan spell and a miserly defence in front of him, which has only conceded five goals so far, Atlético have built their success on solidity at the back and fluidity at the front. Their win over struggling Osasuna meant that they head into this Saturday’s derby against Real Madrid two points ahead of Los Blancos.
And whilst Falcao has made all the headlines over the past few years, Simeone has shown so far that they were far from a one man team and will be hoping to get the better of Carlo Ancelloti and cause another upset at the home of their illustrious cross-town rivals.
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