While Barcelona and Real Madrid get all the coverage in La Liga, a lot of people tend to forget about the other 18 teams. It is odd when one of the other 18 upsets the balance of power, but that is exactly what Atletico Madrid did last season. While they aren’t exactly the minnows of La Liga, Atletico certainly surprised a lot of people by defeating Ronaldo and Messi’s teams over the course of the season.
This season’s team has a very different look than last year’s. The club brought in 15 new players, and will gain Fernando Torres when the January transfer window rolls around. They also parted ways with 14 players, including a talented trio that went to Chelsea. Chelsea’s success has certainly been impacted by Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa, and Filipe Luis, who have led the Blues to the top of the EPL. Atletico, on the other hand, brought in Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann to help stop up the gaps that the departing players may have left.
The new team adapted and adjusted to each other relatively well, winning 5 of 7 preseason friendlies while tying one and losing the other on penalties. It only got better from there, winning the Supercopa over derby rival Real Madrid in August. After that, they recovered from an opening game loss to win their group in the Champions League. They even got a pretty decent draw for the knockout round, getting Bayer Leverkusen from the Bundesliga. With one of four competitions already locked up, it is still possible for Atletico to accomplish a quadruple.
As for the Copa del Rey, Atletico got an awful draw. They are matched up against Real Madrid in the Round of 16, and if they were to get the quarterfinals, Barcelona would most likely be waiting for them. It certainly is lucky for all of the other teams on the other side of the knockout round having the three heavyweights in the same area of the bracket. The teams are not so lucky in La Liga, as they all have to play each team an equal amount.
Last season was a surprise, considering Atletico upended both Real Madrid and Barcelona to take home the league title. This season has reverted back to what we all expected to happen, with Real Madrid and Barcelona back on top of La Liga through 16 games. All three are still in Champions League qualifying positions, so we are really splitting hairs. Real Madrid have been very impressive this season, so for Atletico to be within striking distance of the league title is impressive itself.
Atletico has used a bevy of players this season, having 23 different players start at least one game this season. They don’t necessarily have the star power that Real Madrid and Barcelona may have, but they are playing well as a team, winning without the spotlight. In fact, only Mario Mandzukic has more than 10 goals on the year, with 14. Fellow new addition Antoine Griezmann has 9 goals, but no other player has more than 6 on the year.
They are also a very young team, with only 4 players on the roster who are over 30. That doesn’t mean that the club is without a leader, as captain Gabi has helped steer the youngsters of the club to plenty of success. Diego Simeone has been the manager of the club since 2011, and was a player at Atletico himself during his playing days. He has led the club to their first victory at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in over 10 years, adding some nostalgic value to the silverware won. His 64.57% winning percentage is good for any manager, especially in a top flight league like La Liga.
The club has a nice break around the holidays but will have to get back to work soon, having some very important fixtures coming up after the first of the year. They will start on January 3rd against Levante in La Liga competition. Between January 7th and 15th, the club will play Barcelona once and Real Madrid twice. Playing those squads anytime is difficult, but three games in 9 days will be brutal. After that the schedule is more manageable, but the beginning of the new year may set the tone for the rest of the season.
The club has proved the doubters wrong after a very busy summer transfer period, looking to sustain that success in the second half of the season. We see no reason as to why the club will not continue to be successful, if not shock the competition by winning La Liga again. People may pay attention to Real Madrid and Barcelona, but if they don’t turn their heads quickly that other La Liga team just might pass them by.