Almost half a season gone, and they’re still here. Atletico Madrid aren’t going to let the title race slip away from them like last season, and keep on the pace and chase of Barcelona while staying ahead of Real Madrid, moving forward with a 3-0 win over Valencia.
It could have ended in a more devastating result for Los Che, a club that has found itself in too much of a financial bind to expect being close to the top 3 or even competing for a Champions League spot at the moment. Diego Costa scored two goals and missed another penalty kick. Valencia failed to produce a single shot on target to trouble the slightly bored Thibaut Courtois.
Right now, there’s no real arguing. Despite not having the expensive names their rivals field each week, Atletico Madrid are just as effective on offense as the two biggest clubs of Spain. Diego Costa has scored 17 goals, just like Cristiano Ronaldo and more than Lionel Messi, but he isn’t the only one defenses have to fear from. David Villa is doing quite well in his career-saving season with 8 goals, while Raul Garcia is also adding quite a lot with 6 goals so far this season.
Their defense is the best in Spain, and the ease in which they made it through the Champions League group stage, playing against more experiences European sides like Porto and Zenit showed that this project by Diego Simeone isn’t simply about focusing on one front. Atletico Madrid have been lucky enough to avoid injuries which might have exposed their depth or lack of compared to Real Madrid and Barcelona, but luck is also part of the equation when teams win championships.
Is this the year? It’s been a very long time – 1996, since Atletico lifted the trophy. They haven’t really been close ever since, with some bad years of relegation, ups and downs halting their attempt to re-establish themselves as the third team in Spain. The arrival of Simeone changed everything, becoming bigger than the team’s best players, like Falcao who was sold, while Atletico got better.
It’s the attitude of being equals, and the very limber tactics – playing closed down, counter attacking football one moment and the ability to change into a more possession-dominant team if needed against certain clubs. Having a target man like Diego Costa, able to control his urges of going wild and focusing on scoring goals only, might be the biggest asset they have on the pitch, but the club wouldn’t be doing this well without the man on the sidelines.