Atletico Madrid are perhaps the greatest success story of the season in any of Europe’s major leagues and the fact that their achievements have been built on a solid defence are reflected by their players’ Euro Fantasy League standings.
Three of Atletico’s regular back four feature highly in the list of the game’s highest-point scorers. Right-back Juanfran and centre-back pairing Diego Godin and Miranda are all in the top 10, while the fourth, left-back Filipe Luis, is above such names as Gregory van der Wiel, Cesar Azpilicueta and Dani Alves.
With four games to go in La Liga, Atletico are four points clear of defending champions Barcelona. Real Madrid have a game in hand but even a win for Los Blancos would only cut Atleti’s lead to three points. Diego Simeone has built a side that has ruthlessly surged to the top of the table and it’s been done on the back of a sturdy rear guard.
Thibaut Courtois rightly commands attention as Atletico’s goalkeeper and the Belgium international may truly be one of the best in the world. He also features highly in the Euro Fantasy League rankings as well. But perhaps the reason Courtois keeps so many clean sheets is the unit in front.
Atleti have conceded only 22 goals in the league this season, six fewer than Barca and 10 fewer than Madrid. That’s half the amount of the Premier League leaders, Liverpool, the same total as Serie A table toppers Juventus – although three more than second place Roma – and only two more than Bayern Munich and three more than Paris Saint-Germain.
Simeone’s men still strive to give the impression they’re underdogs and maybe that is the case, financially at least. Their budget is dwarfed by that of Barca and Madrid, not to mention PSG and Bayern, but on the pitch they are the equal of any side on the continent, with a defence that has shackled opposition attacks both domestically and in the Champions League.
Atleti’s feat can only be matched by Lille. Les Dogues join Los Colchoneros as the only team to have more than one player in Euro Fantasy League’s top 10 defenders – left-back Pape Souare and centre-back Marko Basa, with Simon Kjaer also placing highly. Lille too have conceded fewer goals than Atleti – 20 – but are 18 points off top spot in France.
In a more competitive league – one not distorted by PSG’s petrodollars – Lille may be mirroring Atleti’s title challenge. Perhaps, if Rene Girard can hold on to his best players and turn up a few more bargains, Lille will threaten the capital club’s burgeoning hegemony. Atletico have certainly pointed the way for success on a limited budget in a league dominated by continental heavyweights.
Lille don’t have a Diego Costa in attack and that is where it will be hardest to improve. And while Atleti can call on the Spanish-Brazilian, his goals would be frustratingly for naught if not for the water-tight defence at the other end.