Atletico Ready For Another Title Tilt

After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...

Last Updated: 21/08/14 at 15:51 Post Comment

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Despite a number of admittedly high profile departures from Atlético Madrid, the Mighty Rojiblancos, La Liga Champions Extraordinaire and Omnipotent Kings of All They Survey, the team retained one all-important quality: the ability to annoy the crap out of Real Madrid, no matter the competition.

The scene was set at the Santiago Bernabéu in the Spanish Super Cup on Tuesday night for Real Madrid to flash their pricey summer wardrobe to the world, sporting outfits that included €80m or so on a Colombian trinket that the team really don't need, and show Atlético that history will not be repeating itself, not that night and certainly not in La Liga this season.

One crucial matter was overlooked though, the fact that Diego Simeone is still in charge, a motivator and tactician who could spend a week with a Lowestoft pub team and have them challenging for a Europa League place.

Whilst there have been changes at Atlético in terms of squad, the fundamentals remain in terms of philosophy. Each ball will be contested, no tackle will ever be shirked and a game of football is never lost until the heavily gelled man in the middle blows his whistle.

That is how Raul García poked home late on to equalise an opening effort from James Rodríguez and how the sides went into half time with Real Madrid having failed to register a shot on target, with Atlético coming up with three despite just 27% possession.

Atlético showed that despite three vital cogs jumping ship to Chelsea, the team is more than capable enough of being a thorn in the Big Two's side once again in La Primera. Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis may have gone, but the crucial duo of Diego Godín and Miranda remain in place at the back.

Gabi and Mario Suárez are still in the engine room. Meanwhile the front four looks even stronger than last year thanks to some fine manoeuvring in the transfer market. Koke and Arda Turan will continue to supply the industry, the wonderful Antoine Griezmann has the flair, whilst Mario Mandzukic has the physical power and elbows up front, something that Sergio Ramos found out in a particularly memorable confrontation.

La Liga is rarely won in the Clásicos. Instead the champions are those that perform best on those hot Thursday nights in Eibar. Atlético proved themselves to be most adept at these matches last year and there is little to suggest otherwise this time around.

Whilst Real Madrid and Barcelona have certainly beefed up with mega 'cracks' - as they are known in Spain - there are flaws in both teams to be exploited. Carlo Ancelotti's side is going into the season with just the single striker on the books, in the form of the not always reliable Karim Benzema. If Sami Khedira leaves, there will be no defensive midfielder in the squad, leaving Toni Kroos and Luka Modric as a bit of a soft centre at Real Madrid's heart.

It should not be forgotten that, had it not been for a very late Sergio Ramos effort, last year could have been a disastrous one for Madrid, ending with Ancelotti's dismissal for what would have been an historic humiliation by Atlético in Lisbon.

However, it is Barcelona that now looks most vulnerable of the pair. The goalkeeping situation is still unclear with Claudio Bravo and Marc-André ter Stegen competing to fill the boots of Víctor Valdés. Carles Puyol has gone. Replacing the defensive legend and plugging an existing centre-back gap are the unspectacular Jérémy Mathieu and the already injured Thomas Vermaelen. And let's not forget that the now comedy figure of Gerard Piqué is still at the club.

Whilst Ivan Rakitic is a fine acquisition, Barça could regret not giving the keys to the midfield to Cesc Fabregas. Luis Suárez may be available from October to line up alongside Leo Messi and Neymar, but an awful lot of goals will need to be scored by the trio to make up for a dodgy defence as new manager, Luis Enrique, tries to find a new Barcelona philosophy.

In many ways, Atlético have come back stronger than ever. The squad looks plentiful, there are new, zesty faces up front and the team has the confidence, experience and swagger of last year's triumphs.

The defending champions also have Diego Simeone. And whilst the Argentinean is prowling on the touchline, Atleti are capable of anything.

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sn'tthis strange. Last season we were worried that we were stuck with a Dinosaur in Moyes while Liverpool and Everton were disappearing into the distance with their young, spritely managerts, playing football from heaven. Progressive managers, they said. Managers who understand the modern game.........

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