When you glance at the top of the Primera Division table at the moment nothing really jumps out at you; Barcelona and Madrid are top of the league. However, look a little more closely and you will notice it is Athletico who are joint top of the league, level on points with the Catalans, not their city neighbours.
Ever since Diego Simeone took over the club in late 2011 the club have been on a continual rise up the league table. They won the Uefa Europa League last season and have already beaten Chelsea in this year’s European Super Cup final. For the first time in many years the club has a stable environment where the players have been encouraged to show their undoubted talent.
When talking about Atletico at the moment it is simply impossible to ignore the Colombian striker Radamel Falcao who continues to score goals against everyone. He is currently top of the scoring charts in Spain alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi for goals scored this season.
He is now in his second season in Spain having transferred from Porto in the summer of 2011. Having started relatively quietly the introduction of Simeone seems to have taken the Colombian to another level entirely. Falcao’s aerial prowess and remarkable shooting accuracy has surely made him the most feared striker in the world game at this moment in time.
However, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Atletico are a one man team. In goal they currently have Thibaut Courtois (on loan from Chelsea), who at a mere 20 years old already looks like being one of the stand out goalkeepers of the next generation. His athleticism and shot stopping abilities almost defy his young age. It was a bit of a coup when the club managed to secure his services again for this season but unfortunately for the club it seems unlikely that Chelsea will let him remain there permanently.
It is the midfield at Simeone’s disposal that really enables the side to have progressed to this level though. With the experience of Gabi, Mario Suarez and Tiago in central midfield the side has a platform that enables them to create and defend if needed. When allied with some of the more creative players like Adrian and Arda Turan it becomes clear to see why they have enjoyed recent success.
One summer acquisition that has worked out particularly well is that of Emre Belozoglu who has settled in wonderfully in his new surroundings.
Emre has given the side the much needed experience and quality further up the pitch that has enabled Adrian and Turan to showcase their great attacking flair. Although the Turkish international has had a relatively colourful past he seems to have matured somewhat and is back to his best under Simeone.
There has been talk in the press in Spain about whether Athletico can break up the Barcelona and Real Madrid dominance and it still seems unlikely even with the superb start Simeone’s men have made. What is does suggest though is that it is possible to compete with them and match them at some levels; it is unfortunately almost impossible to compete in terms of squad depth but it does show it is achievable to close the gap. Having beaten Malaga last weekend (one of their rivals for a Champions League qualifying place) they look set to compete in European football’s elite competition next season but there are still many more hurdles to overcome along the way.
However, until then let us just enjoy watching a side so full of confidence and self-belief who could go on to defy the odds. Simeone deserves a great deal of credit for transforming the side into what we are witnessing today.
So far Atletico have been simply glorious to watch and long may it continue.
Written by Andy Hunter
Follow him on Twitter @hunter67980
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