Atletico Madrid may be only three points off the top of La Liga but there is a growing sense they have already blown their best chance of a league title since their 2014 triumph. In fact, the possibility of them lifting the Spanish title this year is seemingly significantly higher than it was whenever they pipped Barcelona on the final day five seasons ago.
The Catalan giants are once more at the top of the pile but have already dropped 14 points from their opening 14 games and the title race has been, until now, wide open. Diego Simeone’s men must surely be cursing their own failures to reach their potential – which is so much more than 25 points in the same time frame.
The problems are obvious – Diego Costa broke his nine-month scoring drought in La Liga to head Atleti into a late lead at home to Ernesto Valverde’s side but the hosts could not hold on, and were held to a 1-1 draw, with the visitors creating just one chance of real significance in the entire match.
Sunday’s draw at Girona was Atletico’s seventh in the league this season and it is telling that they have only triumphed once in seven away outings to date this campaign. They have been held at Valencia, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Leganes and Girona, whilst they have lost at Celta Vigo. They have five fewer points on the road than Real Sociedad and four fewer than Girona, who have played one game fewer. Levante, Getafe and Real Valladolid are among the sides who have collected more points on their travels.
This was supposed to be the season when Simeone’s side really pushed on and challenged seriously for the league title. Real Madrid are in transition, Barca appear to have a vulnerablity and there is no other outstanding challenger. But 18 goals – seven fewer than Celta Vigo, in 13th – and their inability to win matches consistently is a killer. They have won back-to-back league games just once to date this campaign. This is not title form.
Costa is now ruled out for the foreseeable future, needing to undergo surgery on a troublesome foot injury. Summer signing Nikola Kalinic may need to step up, or perhaps youngster Borja Garces may be afforded greater game time. Antoine Griezmann, unsurprisingly, is the club’s top scorer in the league but even then he has managed a paltry three in 14 attempts.
No matter what happens from now until the end of the season, Atleti will feel like they have uncharacteristically shed too many points in too many winnable games. There is plenty of time for the situation to turn on its head, but will they be afforded more chances to once more be crowned kings of Spain?
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