Atletico Madrid Take Huge Step Towards La Liga Title at Valencia

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2014

VALENCIA, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  Diego Costa of Club Atletico de Madrid competes for the ball with Ricardo Costa of Valencia CF during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Mestalla on April 27, 2014 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

It's been 10 years since a club outside Barcelona and Real Madrid won the league title. Valencia was the side, and it's ironic that they welcomed the team aiming to emulate them in the run-in.

For Valencia, it's a reminder of where they once were just a short time ago, while for Atletico Madrid it's a warning to take nothing for granted and how the sweet taste of success can quickly turn sour.

"We looked at Rafa and the technical staff who had complete faith in us," striker Mista told ABC, via "And we believed we could do it."

"It was the ‘galacticos’ league because Madrid had signed Beckham, Zidane... but we thought we don’t have those big names, but we do have a team and fans who pull together. Always looking forward."

There are more than a couple of parallels in his words from the current Diego Simeone dynasty at the Vicente Calderon.

Since Rafael Benitez left for Merseyside in 2004, Valencia has had 10 different managers with one Copa del Rey trophy to show in that period.

The mountain of debt has made it difficult to replace the most successful manager in their history. Unai Emery made a valiant attempthis three third-place finishes were seen as an underperformance by some.

Those who underestimate the job done by Simeone at Atletico Madrid need to a look a little further down the league table at Valencia.

They sit eighth and have had to listen to months of speculation on how they will soon be taken over by a new owner with promises of a return to the glory years.

The Mestalla is still a difficult ground to get a result. Barcelona and Real Madrid have managed to get the win there this season, but only by a 3-2 score line (each).

It was a tense first half of this match, with few chances for either side. The pressure on the away team was evident, while Valencia was determined not to make life easy for their opponents.

When the CostasValencia's Ricardo and Atléti's Diego—became embroiled in a dispute, it summed up the feeling among the teams.

That mood changed when Gabi's ball into the box invited all sorts of confusion. Raul Garcia's backwards header gave Atletico the lead just before half-time.

Vicente Guaita was at fault; he came flying out to make an attempted punch clearance, and the fact centre-back Jeremy Mathieu ducked shows that there was a call from his goalkeeper.

It was a gift for Atletico, the sort that you need to ease the burden that comes with title challenges at this stage of the campaign.

Five minutes into the second period, Diego Costa had the opportunity to double their lead when the striker went through one against one with Guaita. Most inside the Mestalla would have expected him to score.

Costa tried to be a bit too clever and put the ball between Guaita's legs. The shot-stopper got enough of his body in the way to deny the Brazilian-born forward.

Even a late red card from Juanfran couldn't dampen spirits, as the right-back was sent off for hacking down Pablo Piatti from behind.

It was a resilient display overall from Simeone's men, the kind that defines champions. Atletico weren't at their best, but they got the job done.

When Radomir Antic won the title in 1996, few Atleti fans would have expected the club to have had 14 different full-time managers and no Primera trophy in the subsequent 18 years.

"We have shown that in no way will we throw away the league," said winger Jose Sosa last Thursday in a press conference. "We are ambitious and will give everything to win it."