After four La Liga matches this season, Atletico Madrid trailed league leaders Barcelona by seven points. These were very early days but the fears were real – this much hyped campaign, with talk of a league title, was over as soon as it had begun. Could they claw back such a gap?
As it turns out, four games later the two are level-pegging in the standings and are just one point behind leaders Sevilla. This run has also seen Atleti win their opening two Champions League games – and steering clear of a nightmare early elimination repeat of last season – whilst they have also ticked off a Madrid derby and a victory over high-flying Real Betis, thanks to Angel Correa’s strike.
Of course, this is merely demonstrative of the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of football and it may be wise to put the upturn in form into perspective. Victories over Monaco, Getafe, Huesca, Club Brugges and Real Betis were all expected, while their city neighbours Real are in a mini-crisis of their own.
This was supposed to be another campaign which promised reinvention from Diego Simeone. Exciting wingers Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins had been signed at great expense, while Antoine Griezmann was retained and Diego Costa was looking ahead to his first full seasons back at the club. There were Vitolo and Nikola Kalinic too, along with the emergence of exciting youth prospect Borja Garces.
Just as ever with Atleti, they often start finding their best run of form when they abandon the pretense of growing into a slick attacking outfit and instead focus on what they do best: providing the sternest defence in European football. They now have four consecutive La Liga clean sheets and that again will be their priority for their coming run of fixtures.
There are very real concerns too: Diego Costa is without a league goal since February and shock reports have even linked him with a possible exit from the club, again. Martins has not earned significant game-time and Lemar, whilst clearly immensely talented, has not so far appeared a natural fit. Diego Godin and Saul Niguez – usually two stellar, consistent performers – have looked off their game too.
Antoine Griezmann has already bagged four goals this season and will look for a repeat of his 29 last time out but if Atleti are serious about winning titles domestically and in Europe, they know they will have to significantly improve their individual and collective performances. Perhaps an early lesson is that they should remain calm as title rivals this time out appear to be equally vulnerable.
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