While the chances of anyone other than Barcelona or Real Madrid winning this season’s La Liga look remote, over at the Vicente Calderon, Real’s own version of the "noisy neighbours" have already kicked up something of a storm just two league games into the season.
Continuing where they left off last season, with a Copa del Rey victory in the Galacticos' back garden, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid have hit the floor running with an impressive away victory at Sevilla, a well-deserved draw in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona and a 5-0 demolition job of their less prestigious neighbours, Rayo Vallecano.
Just two league games in, and everybody’s happy on the Atletico side of town.
So, what’s happened? What is the Simeone secret? Well, there's a lot to it, actually.
First Simeone, who signed a new four-year deal on March 5, 2013 when the rojiblancos made it to the Copa del Rey final, has created a stability at the club for the first time in years. Short, sharp, intense training sessions, aggressive defensive pressure, a tremendous intensity and a belief matched with speed and mobility up front make this Atletico side look more than a handful for anyone.
More importantly, he has created a side that is a mirror image of the man himself. Intense, passionate and ready to die for the cause. Everybody feels important. And his talisman in the side is the regenerated Diego Costa, not long ago thought to be on his way out. But now, armed with a new contract like Simeone, the club’s new superstar looks for all the world like the man born to be the new Atletico hero with Radamel Falcao gone.
David Villa should have scored against Rayo when he struck the crossbar, but that said—and despite perhaps lacking that little bit of pace now—he is still a natural goalscorer. He also feels wanted and looks a man reborn after a serious injury that saw him sidelined, by-passed and unhappy at Barcelona.
And with a happy squad, and one that he can rotate, Wednesday’s delicately poised second-leg Super Cup match looks anything but a gimme for a Barcelona side that appeared a shadow of the one that steamrollered a poor Levante in last week’s opener.
Lionel Messi has played only one full game out of 25 (as the tweet says, he is back in training with the group and, interestingly enough, Denis Suarez has also trained with them) and Tata Martino still insists (wrongly, in my opinion) that Neymar needs to be brought in little by little.
Barcelona looked slow in their buildup against Malaga, with only Cesc Fabregas showing any real movement in the midfield areas as Barcelona tried to unsuccessfully breach the opposition defence with that same old-fashioned wide wing play that was used by Pep Guardiola way back in his first season.
In my eyes, Atletico have a really good chance of winning the Super Cup.