Can Atletico Madrid Challenge for La Liga Title Next Season?
Still, it didn't seem to affect Diego Simeone's side, and by the Christmas break they'd only lost twice more—to Real Madrid and Barcelona, on both occasions away from home.
They, not their bitter city rivals, looked like being the only threat to Tito Vilanova's runaway leaders at the top of the table.
Since then, though, things have dropped off a little bit at the Vicente Calderon. They've lost a further three games in the league—they're yet to play Los Blancos or La Blaugrana again—which included giving up their perfect home record to the impressive Real Sociedad.
Before this weekend's fixtures, Atletico Madrid had scored just five goals in their last six games, and on top of that had seen Real Madrid leapfrog them into second place in La Liga's standings.
Early on Sunday evening, though, they smashed five past lowly Granada to remind us of the team that for so long had looked likely to break up the duopoly in Spain. If Real Madrid's mind strays to the Champions League, Los Rojiblancos may still sneak it, but looking to next season—could Atleti genuinely compete for the title?
This season they have exerted a consistency which has long since evaded Madrid's second club. If El Cholo remains in charge that consistency in results should benefit even more from consistency in management and, hopefully, personnel.
Their record at home—barring the recent defeat to La Real—is that of champions, as is their defensive record, which is the best in La Liga. No problems there then.
Atletico Madrid at home: Played 14; Won 12; Drawn 1; Lost 1; For 40; Against 8
So thoughts turn to where they're not so good. Their away form is the sixth best in Spain's Primera Division—not bad, but not good enough for any team wanting to compete for a title in a competition which boasts two exceptionally strong sides in Madrid and Barca.
Then you look at their goals-for column. With 56 goals, 40 of which have come at the Vicente Calderon, only the top two and Sociedad have scored more—however it's alarming how many more goals the apex predators have netted. Real Madrid have scored 80 and Barcelona 98.
Radamel Falcao has scored 24 of the Atleti goals, and there have been suggestions recently that they have become too one-dimensional. However, the Colombian forward could be sold in the summer, which may not be such a bad thing.
Television money in Spain is distributed in a way which sees the top two sides generate a lot more income than anyone else in the league—it means many of the other clubs are suffering financially. Atleti are a victim of this, and the sale of El Tigre could represent their best chance to add more attacking options to challenge the top two.
The reality is whatever they do—keep Falcao or not—their chances of challenging for La Liga next season are not great.
As they sit 16 points behind Barcelona with seven games remaining, the best hope is that next season they continue to close that gap and, if they can keep Simeone, establish a consistent platform to continue to build on in the coming seasons.
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