The 2013-14 season was Atletico Madrid’s best one since 1996. The club overcame both Barcelona and Real Madrid to win the title, coming also seconds away from claiming the UEFA Champions League (4-1 loss to Real in the extra time).
Last year, the team couldn’t successfully defend its title, with the “Blaugrana” and the “Whites” finishing first and second, respectively.
This year, things seemed to be difficult in the beginning. Atletico didn’t make a good start, losing to Barcelona and Villareal, respectively, while also failing to prevail over Real Madrid (1-1).
Consequently, the “Rojiblancos” couldn’t be considered title contenders, while the absence of Arda Turan, who had left Atletico to join the Catalan side, was vital for the squad, as he was one of the club’s best and more consistent players.
Since then, though, everything has changed. Diego Simeone’s players have won 11 of their last 13 league games (having also one draw and one loss) and are currently on top of the table, being ready to go all the way to the end.
As a result, the team entered 2016 being first in the standings, four points clear of Zinedine Zidane’s side and two ahead of Luis Enrique’s team (which has a game in hand, against Sporting Gijon in February), respectively.
At the same time, they will face PSV Eindhoven in Champions League’s Last 16, being the favourites to qualify to the next round. With that being said, what have been the key factors, which led to the side’s impressive run?
During the summer, Atlético spent a lot of money and signed Luciano Vietto, Yannick Carrasco, Ángel Correa and Jackson Martínez, while had already acquired Fernando Torres.
All five of them were expected to have a decisive role in the team’s effort to make history again. However, they have come up short so far and it’s Antoinne Griezmann’s extraordinary performance that has made the difference for the squad.
The Frenchman has been in a tremendous form since the beginning of the season, having scored more than a third of the club’s league goals.
In addition, Saul, Oliver Torres and Thomas Teye Partey have significantly helped Simeone cover the big gap that Tiago’s serious injury has created, with Koke, Filipe Luis and Juanfran offering decent solutions as well, both offensively and defensively.
Moreover, twelve players have scored in the league so far, more than in any other club. “Every player has to understand that we don’t share that idea that being a starter is what matters,” the Argentinian coach said, adding that “the quality of the minutes is more important than the quantity.”
In the meantime, the 45-year-old manager has seen eight goals and nine assists having been provided by players coming off the bench, with a total of 17 goals coming from the substitutes.
The squad has also enhanced its defensive stability and concentration, having kept 14 clean sheets in 21 league games and (having) conceded only eight goals all season.
The 0-3 victory against Las Palmas, on Sunday afternoon, showed once again that Atletico Madrid are capable of maintaining their place on top until the end of the season, not only in Spain, but also in Europe.
The only thing they have to do is to perform at the same high standards in the second half of the season. But, the question now is: Can they do that? For me, yes. However, only Diego Simeone and his players have the real answer.