Both Real Madrid and Atletico go into their Champions League semi-final ties knowing that things will be tough. Not as tough as Barcelona and Betis are finding things, though.
When Diego Costa collided with the post against Getafe, he showed the commitment many Barcelona fans feel is lacking from their side. The Copa Del Rey now becomes massive...
The normal gripe of football types who spout off to phone-ins, write letters, tweet, or make selfies or whatever communication tool used by the pampered youth of today is to grumble with gusto that their side simply do not get the attention and credit it deserves.
Diego Simeone doesn't fit that bracket. Atlético's tough guy, never-complaining manager would chug down a steaming pot of tea in hell simply to make a point to Lucifer that his domain was not so bad. Indeed, the Argentinean who continues to be clad all in black for his games, continues to make the point that his side have zero chance of winning La Liga and that to call them title contenders is the talk of fools.
That claim is going to be increasingly hard to back up with Atlético now equal on points with Barcelona at the top of the table, after their 1-0 defeat in San Mamés against Athletic Bilbao. "All this is nice for the fans but we are just going from game to game," was the mantra once again from Simeone after Atlético's win at Elche the previous day. "The key is to play every game as if it is a final," confirmed Koke, the scorer of the Rojiblanco opener in the 2-0 victory, following his manager's low profile approach to title talk.
For the first few months of the season, Simeone's philosophy seemed sound. After all, aside from a talented first eleven, the squad appeared to be thin, certainly in comparison with the abundant riches of Barcelona and Real Madrid, teams that had Neymar and Gareth Bale on the bench. The humungous energy levels the Rojiblancos required to keep up the pace appeared unsustainable, whilst the Champions League campaign was set to prove to be too much of a distraction for the team. There was also the sense that Simeone's endless urgings for his team to show passion, desire, fight and play every match as if it was the last of their lives would eventually fall on deaf ears.
However, one-by-one, all those reasons not to believe in what would be the footballing miracle of a title win are being taken apart by the Vicente Calderón club, which continues to match and even better the Big Two with nearly half of the season gone. Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld is starting to chip in with minutes at the back, whilst nine midfielders have contributed to the cause in La Liga this term.
It is up front where Atlético are really enjoying spreading the wealth, where David Villa has formed a fine partnership alongside Diego Costa, with 22 goals between the pair, as well as the previously exiled Adrían re-finding his form. The Asturian came off the bench on Saturday to put through a glorious pass over the top for Costa to wrap up the affair against Elche. Exciting signing Leo Baptistao, who joined from Rayo over the summer, hasn't even been wheeled out yet in force with the Brazilian having suffered a number of injury setbacks.
Atlético's previous high tempo, chase down every 50-50 ball approach has been tempered a little too, to the extent that the team can be a little boring to watch, but in a good way. Saturday's win was the fourth clean sheet in the past six games for the Rojiblancos with the side scoring a conservative seven goals over four of those clashes. The 5-0 and 7-0 wins against Betis and Getafe are the stand-out results in this recent sequence, games where the Calderón club scored despite themselves.
The 1-1 draw against Villarreal three rounds ago, only one of two occasions where points have been dropped this season, was a mature, dogged, digging in performance where energy levels were low, but a relatively positive result was still secured. Not even the Champions League could stop Atlético with the side putting everything possible into winning first four matches, to leave the final six weeks of the campaign before the winter break with the true focus of the team only on the league.
This week though, it appears that Simeone is going to have his wish of Atlético staying off the front pages. Gareth Bale's hat-trick on Saturday and Barcelona's defeat in Bilbao will keep chins a'wagging in Spain, leaving the Argentinean free to ensure that his team keep on winning.
Round 15 Results
Villarreal 1-1 Malaga
Getafe 1-0 Levante
Elche 0-2 Atletico Madrid
Celta Vigo 3-1 Almeria
Real Madrid 4-0 Valladolid
Espanyol 1-2 Real Sociedad
Betis 2-2 Rayo Vallecano
Granada 1-2 Sevilla
Valencia 3-0 Osasuna
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Barcelona
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter