Diego Simeone’s Atleti are flying high, away from the spotlight

Ten matches, eight wins, two draws and no losses; add that to twenty one goals scored and just two goals conceded in the same amount of games and you would understand why Atletico Madrid fans are quietly optimistic about the chances of their team in this season’s race for the La Liga title.

Diego Simeone is quietly going about his business in the league this season. While the spotlight is focused on Real Madrid and Barcelona – often for not so pleasant reasons – El Cholo has picked up points under the radar and guided his Atleti team to the top of the table where they lead the closest challenger, Real Sociedad with a single point, having played two games less. What’s even more impressive is the fact that they currently hold a six-point lead over city rivals and last season’s champions, Real Madrid, despite playing one less game while the gap over Barcelona currently stands at twelve points.

One of Atleti’s biggest weakness over the past two or three seasons has been their inability to put a run of wins together during a season. The club usually struggled, especially in away games to pick up wins, often settling for draws that end up doing more harm than good to their league campaign. Last season, Simeone’s men ended the season with sixteen draws, that’s just three games short of fifty percent of the total number of games they played in the entire season. In the two seasons before that, ten of their thirty eight games in each season ended in a stalemate. To put this is clearer context, those numbers are not good enough to win the title as no team in La Liga has won the league having played ten draws or more since Real Madrid did it in the 2002/03 season. One could argue that the La Liga winners in the last three seasons all finished with nine draws each, just one less than ten draws threshold, but a counter argument would be that none of those winners lost more than three games – an amount less than Atletico Madrid’s total amount of losses every season for the last ten seasons – during their entire league winning campaigns.

Los Colchoneros are unbeaten in La Liga in the last twenty six games, in a run that stretches back to February, when they lost away to bitter rivals, Real Madrid. In that time, they’ve picked up seventeen wins, including eight from the current season. The addition of Luis Suarez to the team has proved beneficial while Joao Felix seems to be finding his feet after a shaky start to life in Spain, both players have a combined goals contribution of thirteen goals so far which is quite impressive if you take into consideration the fact that Atleti’s trio of forwards – Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa and Joao Felix – had a combined goals contribution of thirty (23 goals, 7 assist) last season. The extra firepower that Luis Suarez brings could be the stimulus that they need in order to win the title this season.

Photo: Atletico Madrid

Defensively, Atleti rarely have issues. Diego Simeone has had the team drilled defensively over the years that it doesn’t matter who features in the starting eleven, the first objective is often to prevent the opponent from scoring. In the past five seasons, Atleti have averaged less than a goal conceded per game in each season, with their best campaign being the 2015/16 season where they allowed just eighteen goals in thirty eight games. This season, the team has conceded just two goals in ten games played and is yet to concede a goal in the last 370 minutes of football (just over four games), good numbers for a team that would like to be reckoned with as far as the title race is concerned.

Diego Simeone however continues to deny his team’s title credentials, when asked about the similarities between his current team and his title winning side from the 2013/14 season, the Argentine manager said there are none. He does however admit that his team has shown signs of growth over the past year and they’re working better on the pitch as there’s a lot of enthusiasm within the squad.

Why would he want such comparison though? Why would he want his team to be tagged favourites for the title after just ten games in the season? Why would he want the media spotlight on his team when he’s completely fine with it focused elsewhere? Diego Simeone knows that this season presents an opportunity for him and his team, Real Madrid continue to struggle to find consistency both locally and continentally whilst Barcelona are faced with their own issues on and off the pitch; the timing couldn’t be better for Atleti to fly beneath the radar to win a first La Liga title since 2014.

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