Copa Del Rey 2013: Don't Expect Atletico to Repeat Last Year's Triumph
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A lot can happen in a year. When Atletico Madrid took down neighbours Real to win the Copa del Rey in February, it was a victory for parity and Spanish football in general. However, everything seems set to revert back to type as the new season rolls around.
Barcelona and Real are both stronger than last year, and the gap between them and the rest of Spanish football grows with each new signing.
As with most clubs below Real and Barcelona, El Atléti's problem is overall squad depth. The top two clubs can face a difficult game with a small shrug of indifference before bringing on the likes of Neymar with half an hour to spare.
Atletico, on the other hand, have to play at their absolute peak with their first-team players and execute Diego Simeone's plan perfectly.
Will Atleti retain the Copa del Rey?
They are more than capable of doing this, as evidenced by the first half of the Spanish Super Cup game against Barcelona. Atleti were fierce in defence—possibly a little too fierce, if we're being honest—and never allowed their opponents to settle on the ball and have time to develop their cutting passing game.
It was a display off dogged belief that was as effective as it was unsustainable. Barca eventully claimed a draw with a second-half Neymar goal, cancelling out David Villa's brilliant opener.
There's enough talent and dedication within the ranks to challenge any team on an individual basis, but maintaining it over the course of the season requires a great deal of luck with injuries—especially if the physicality we saw against Barca is to become a prominent feature of Atletico's play this year.
That's not anything on which to build a campaign, while there have also been players exiting Madrid over the offseason.
The obvious loss is that of Radamel Falcao.
While his goals will be missed, his importance to the side was ably demonstrated by his unselfish play in the Copa del Rey final against Real. He sat back more and functioned as a playmaker for his teammates, contributing to Diego Costa's equaliser with a lovely pass.
Costa himself has signed a new deal, while the acquisition of Villa and Leo Baptistao will all help to offset the loss of Falcao. They've undeniably replaced quality with quality. However, the Champions League will take precedence over the domestic cup and the additional fixtures for this year will wear the squad thinner than ever before.
It's the price of success, and they have certainly been enjoying a great deal of it since Simeone's arrival.
Having won the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup twice, the next step up in world football is to progress in the Champions League.
In order to do this, Simeone must rest players for important fixtures in other competitions, leaving them open to defeat. The Copa del Rey will likely be the competition to suffer.
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