Although Atletico Madrid might not have been able to end the weekend at the top of the La Liga table, Diego Simeone’s men certainly laid down a real marker in the capital.
Picking up a 1-0 win against Barcelona, some across Spain have billed them as an early-season contender and few would argue that Los Colchoneros don’t have a golden opportunity ahead of them.
Priced at 2/1 with Unibet to clinch their first domestic crown since 2014, how have Atletico played themselves into a real title hunt?
Finding a clinical edge
While Atletico Madrid might have built their reputation under Simeone for their rugged displays at the back, they have gained a string of plaudits this season for what has been a new-found clinical edge in the final third.
Shocking many and managing to bring the prolific Luis Suarez over from the Nou Camp for next to nothing, the former Liverpool superstar doesn’t just offer Simeone another attacking option, he also brings a host of experience in winning silverware.
With Atletico’s recent attacking resurge highlighted by a 4-0 romp against a high-flying Cadiz heading into November’s international break, Los Colchoneros have recorded at least a pair of strikes in four of their last six appearances across all competitions.
Undoubtedly a blossoming Joao Felix does deserve plenty of credit for Atletico’s rise.
The Portugal forward, who turned 21 last week, largely struggled during his first season in Spain last year, managing to score just nine goals and never appearing fully to earn the trust of the demanding Simeone.
However, he has shown exactly why Atletico splash £113million to sign him from Benfica by delivering a series of spectacular performances so far this season and spearheading a new-look squad.
A wide open table
While Atletico might have been a picture of unity following their victory in the capital on Saturday, Spain’s most notable heavyweights find themselves in the midst of their own rather glaring crisis.
Slumping to that 1-0 loss at the Wanda Metropolitano and with Lionel Messi’s future still hanging in the balance, Barcelona have managed to muster just eight points from their opening eight La Liga appearances and are simply a shadow of their former selves.
An aging squad that has now been hit by the news that Gerard Pique could face up to six months out with a knee injury, Atletico have been handed a real chance by the fact that their crosstown rivals aren’t fairing any better across the capital.
Eventually having to settle for a point against surprise package Villarreal, Real Madrid have only continued to show a host of inconstancies since opening the New Year, a run highlighted by a stunning 4-1 drumming away at Valencia when heading into November’s international break.
With the futures of both Ronald Koeman and Zinedine Zidane still under real scrutiny, it is no surprise that many across Spain feel that Simeone and Atletico are a leading contender in the title chase this season.
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