Although Bayern Munich were pushed all the way by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final, their victory allows us to reflect on a remarkable season. They've set a high bar...
That's the difference between him and someone like Cristiano Ronaldo - his body just isn't right. We have mails on him, Sparky, Brendan Rodgers and the Europa Lge...
At this rate, Atlético Madrid are going to manage what no team has achieved since Villarreal in 2008, and that's break the boring big two monopoly at the top of the table in La Liga. In that season, the Yellow Submarine - now floundering about in La Segunda, unfortunately - took advantage of a hapless Barcelona, disintegrating under Frank Rijkaard, to sneak into second.
In some small regard, Atlético Madrid are taking advantage of another Goliath going gaga with Real Madrid 15 points worse off than at this stage last season. The 56 points Atlético currently possess would still have seen them standing one place and one point behind Barcelona at his juncture last year, but they are 23 better off themselves, a mind-blowing achievement for the club and Diego Simeone who has been in charge for just 14 months.
Sunday's 1-0 win over Espanyol in the Vicente Calderón was typical of Atlético's performances this season - consistent, predictable, disciplined, hard-fought and well-planned. Five adjectives, in fact, that have not been used in relation to this particular club for...well...forever. Even last year under the Argentinean coach there were still typical but endearing snatching defeat from the jaws of victory Atlético moments, including a string of late goals conceded in La Liga to leave the club two points short of the Champions League places.
But this year, under Simeone's constant Eye of Sauron glare, clad in black, pacing, shouting and berating the referee from the touchline, Atlético have barely put a foot wrong. The Rojiblancos were down to ten men for much of the second half against Espanyol due to two yellows awarded to midfield organiser, Gabi, but it didn't bother them for one moment, as they hardly gave the opposition a sniff in their 13th home win from 13 in La Liga. In fact, the last side to score a goal at the Calderón in La Primera was Osasuna, back in September and ten home matches ago.
"We were up against an organised rival," admitted Espanyol coach, Javier Aguirre, a manager who himself had a spell on the Atlético bench between 2006 and 2009. The intense Simeone has been repeating the same message before and after every game, praising his team for being "men" after the previous two victories and talking of the importance of guts, effort and determination.
It's a mantra that's clearly working at a club that's always had players of high quality, such as Diego Forlán and Kun Agüero, but rarely a manager to put a strong boot down on dressing room rumbles - as well a swift kick for some - or block out interference from the team's two owners, who often have conflicting visions of the future of the side. Admittedly, this has made Atlético a little bit boring in comparison to the seasons before where a trip to the Vicente Calderón would see glorious matches the result of which only the foolish would dare to predict.
The immediate future for the club is a Copa del Rey semi-final against Sevilla on Wednesday in the Sánchez Pizjuán, a clash in which the capital city club hold a 2-1 lead. Thursday's exit against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League was a true blessing in disguise with Atlético are now able to focus fully on their 13 remaining league games. Three more wins would almost certainly guarantee a Champions League position judging by points tallies of recent seasons, but what must be a real target for Atlético is the opportunity to finish second ahead of Real Madrid, kicking sand in the face of their rivals who could well find themselves out of the Copa del Rey and Champions League in eight days' time after key away clashes to Barcelona and Manchester United.
"As a minimum, we want to stay in second and to do this we have to keep winning and winning, there's no other word in our heads," explained Atlético defender, Juanfran, after Sunday's win. The confession from the full-back was one of the first times an Atlético Madrid player has not followed the philosophy of taking each game as it comes and seeing where the side is at the end of the season.
It was one of the first occasions that a very clear and achievable ambition has been revealed. The 12-point gap to Barcelona is realistically too big to overhaul, but there's no reason why the four-point margin over a Real Madrid side who are still struggling on the road cannot be held or even increased.
As ever at the Vicente Calderón, the long-term vision is not as clear with enormous debts potentially forcing the sale of players such as Falcao and Arda Turan and the return to Chelsea of the outstanding Thibaut Courtois. Simeone's presence next season isn't guaranteed either, with the manager's contract yet to be renewed, reportedly over the length of the next deal and a promise that there won't be a fire sale, now that Champions League qualifications looks a dead cert after four years out of the competition.
For the moment, the Atlético fans are stuck in a familiar position, given they may not be enjoying the individual matches that their polished, professional team are playing. But the Rojiblanco massive is certainly having a blast in the overall campaign with Atleti not far from getting one over their big brothers at the Bernabéu.
Round 25 Results
Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Real Sociedad
Mallorca 1-3 Getafe
Zaragoza 2-2 Valencia
Deportivo 1-2 Real Madrid
Barcelona 2-1 Sevilla
Rayo Vallecano 1-2 Valladolid
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Espanyol
Betis 3-0 Málaga
Celta Vigo 2-1 Granada
Levante v Osasuna (Monday)
Raphy13; no. The situation is that between them, Real Madrid and Barcelona take a huge slice of the pie (about 60% of TV revenue, or something like that) but that is due to individually negotiated TV deals that they own with various TV companies. It's not based on their final league standing. The tragic inevitability being that if Athletico finish above Real Madrid, RM will almost certainly go out and spend another £100m+ on re-setting the previous status quo. Uphot is that no other team in Spain can compete with Real and Barca's financial muscle. RM will, in all likelyhood, simply buy Falcao and reset the difference.- HarryBoulton