Atletico flying high in La Liga
With Madrid being represented in the top two of La Liga by Atletico, and not noisy neighbours Real, it is about time Los Rojiblancos' progress was taken seriously.
False dawns are a common occurrence in football. Only last season, Tottenham Hotspur fans goaded their Arsenal counterparts to "mind the gap," in reference to Spurs' league point supremacy in March (as opposed to reminding their foes to take care on the London Underground).
By the season's end, Arsenal struck back with aplomb and the White Hart Lane faithful were muted—contemplating yet another season without Champions League football.
In Madrid, however, it is a different story. The Spanish media seem to have missed a trick or two in being preoccupied with Neymar and Gareth Bale. The real talking point of La Liga should be: Are Atletico serious title contenders this year?
Los Rojiblancos' progress is underlined by the fact that they currently occupy second place in the league, just one point behind a rampant Barcelona side. The Catalans have not been slouches, eclipsing their own impressive 10-game point tally of last season, during their unstoppable march to the La Liga crown.
So, what is the secret of their success?
Furthermore, Diego Simeone's men finished the last La Liga campaign in third place with 76 points—the club's highest Primera División points tally since they were crowned Spain's league champions in 1996.
The club took a significant step forward in qualifying for this season's Champions League, and the icing on the cake was beating cross-town rivals Real at the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey final. It completed a very successful season, given Atletico crushed 2012 Champions League winners Chelsea 4-1 to start their season with a European Super Cup triumph.
Summer transfer activity
Radamel Falcao was a significant reason Atletico finished third last season, as the Colombian predator scored 34 goals in all competitions. However, a huge €60 million offer was too good to refuse resulting in a transfer to Monaco.
Despite Atletico being accustomed to selling their best players and still prospering (especially Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero), the loss of Falcao could have been considered the straw that broke the camel's back.
Not so. Atletico went bargain shopping, bringing in Toby Alderweireld from Ajax and Joshua Guilavogui from Ligue 1's Saint-Etienne for a combined €17 million.
This ensured the clubs coffers remained boosted to the tune of €45 million.
El Derbi Madrileno
When Los Rojiblancos beat Real last season in the Copa del Rey final, it ended a painful sequence of 25 games without a win in the Madrid derby—spanning a period of 14 years.
In ensuring it was not a one-off, one of Atletico's five league away wins this campaign has been at the Bernabeu, firmly giving the Atleti supporters all-important bragging rights in the Spanish capital.
Costa is a man on fire thus far and the reason why Falcao's absence has not been felt. He has 12 goals in 11 La Liga matches plus two more in one Champions League outing, making Costa hot property.
As per James Dickenson of the Daily Express, Costa was close to becoming a Liverpool player in the summer, and now Chelsea may be considering their options in January. Atletico would be loathe to lose such a huge asset during midseason.
In addition to their 10 league wins (from 11 games at the time of writing), Atletico have a 100 percent record in the Champions League. Admittedly, of their 10 league wins thus far, five have been home bankers against La Liga's current bottom five clubs.
Their next two games could be crucial in ensuring they keep up their momentum and pressure on leaders Barcelona. Atletico face Athletic Bilbao at home on Saturday before they travel to Castello to face Villarreal.
Simeone has single-handedly turned Atletico from a mediocre team into one that is threatening to break up the duopoly in La Liga (on a fraction of his competitor's budgets).
Given Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger making it onto the short-list, Atletico's president, Enrique Cerezo, weighed in with an appropriate conclusion, per Hunter's report, "It seems to me abnormal that Diego isn't on the list. He's the sensation of European football coaching."
Ironically, their last league game of the season will be away at the Camp Nou—a title decider perhaps?
Whisper it quietly, but Atletico appear to be real deal.