With six wins in as many games, one would like to hope that the horses prancing to challenge for this season’s La Liga have a red and white outfit on board.
Los Rojiblancos - as it is famously called for its red and white stripes jersey, Atletico Madrid seems to be a side capable of breaking the monotony that has been set in the Spanish league, where although 20 teams manage to get on the league table, only two teams are seen challenging for the ultimate glory.
La Liga is termed as one of the most ‘boring’ leagues in the world (and rightly so, unless you are a Barcelona or a Real Madrid supporter) as every year the ball rolls in the same old courts – FC Barcelona and Real Madrid FC, two European giants who hardly find any competition in their own Spanish league.
“Where money does the talking” - I can imagine a La Liga follower coming up with this proverb. The teams of the financial might of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, (in the same order) enjoy the luxury of spending big when they require infusing fresh blood in their squads with the best player available in the market, albeit availability is not the right word when we are talking about the money these clubs can spend to lure someone they want.
The recent epitome of these riches is the record breaking transfer fee paid by Real Madrid to bag in Gareth Bale from Tottenham, who was unavailable as per Andres Villas Boas, Spurs’s manager, until one fine morning when he heard of an offer worth some GBP 85.3 million to let go off the Welsh winger.
Surely, President Florentino Perez did not have to say more, as for him, ‘money did all the talking’.
There is a huge gap in the wealth of these two biggies and the rest of the teams in the league who are suffering from a financial crunch.
Prior to the 2012-13 Copa del Rey final, Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager, pointed out the difference between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is ‘not the substance, style, history, tradition, ideology or design but the 400 million Euros in budget’.
A three-horse race
Since the advent of the Spanish season 2004-05, the La Liga trophies have added glitter either to the trophy cabinet at Nou Camp or Santiago Bernabeu, leaving other 18 clubs entering the fray, every year, holding onto their horses to lift that elusive La-Liga trophy.
Last season, Atletico Madrid emerged as a ray of hope for the Liga followers who could see a third contender for the La Liga trophy in the Madrid club. They augured quite well till match day 26 as they held on to that second position over and above the city rivals, Real Madrid.
The third horse in the Spanish league showed signs of its arrival last season itself but losing crucial points in the later stage of the league cost them their position, finally ending up at the third spot.
Pundits would still not call them the third horse in the La Liga because they lost all their La Liga face offs against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and finished 24 points off the ultimate champions, Barcelona.
What made Atletico a bright prospect for the 2013-14 season, was when Gabi lifted the Copa del Rey trophy last season after his side trounced Real Madrid in the finals at Santiago Bernabeu.
However, life is not beautiful all the time and Atletico fans felt a grave setback when they had to lose their star striker Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco after the stellar 2012-13 season. Simeone had built his entire side around the Columbian, who ended up scoring 52 goals in 68 appearances in his 2-year stint in the Madrid side.
Once Falcao left, a void was felt in the Madrid side even when it had players of the caliber of Arda Turan, Thibaut Courtios (on loan from Chelsea), Joao Miranda and Gabi, and the ray of hope that was illuminated last season seemed fading off.
To fill the void, Simeone landed a Spanish striker this time for an absolute bargain – someone who was the joint top scorer in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and who has plied his trade in arguably the best team in the world. Atletico Madrid shelled out just 2.1 million Euros for David Villa – Spain’s all time top goal scorer.
Villa sought this as an opportunity to play at his favorite centre forward position and get regular playing time on the field. which he was denied at Barcelona.
Atletico Madrid have earned all the 21 points on offer so far by showing the same high-spirited nature of football with Diego Costa and David Villa taking the charge of the attack in the absence of Falcao. Diego Costa has already scored 8 goals in his 7 La Liga outings, sitting on the top scorers’ list along with Leo Messi.
Courtios has always performed well. The best Liga goal keeper in 2012-13 has carried the tag of one of the best young shot stoppers in the world with ease till now, having 3 clean sheets already in 10 games in all competitions.
The midfield looks pretty sorted in the likes of Mario Suarez and captain Gabi. The Turkish winger, Arda Turan, has continued his brilliant form from last season. Strong defence and fast play has always characterized the style of play adopted by the Argentine manager. However, the problem will arise when the crucial players will be sidelined with injuries as the bench strength lacks the required fire-power.
All said and done, Atletico Madrid is certainly going to become ‘frogs in the bucket’ for Real and Barca as both the teams do not look as invincible as they did a few years back.
Barca’s inability in adding the much needed defender to its team line-up this season again, is going to expose its abysmal defense which was ripped apart by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid last season. The fast attacking style of play of Los Rojiblancos is also capable of exposing their defense once again.
Real Madrid, under the new manager, has entered a few new players in the squad which at the first instance seemed to be a fatal team line up with one of the most ferocious pairing up front of Ronaldo and Bale but the Galacticos have failed to clicked so far, losing out to Atletico last night at Santiago Bernabeu, their first La Liga loss to the city rivals since 1999.
Atletico, now, have beaten Real Madrid after 13 years in a La Liga encounter and gave Barcelona a run for their money in the Spanish Super Cup. The stage is set for Atletico Madrid to show the world that La-Liga is no longer a two horse race. The men in red and white need to keep this momentum going, ensuring that they do not lose crucial points in the later stages of the league.