Atletico Madrid moved three points clear of Real Madrid and Barcelona, following Los Blancos and Los Azulgranas’ failure to pick up maximum points against Athletic Bilbao and Valencia. La Liga’s two giants are now tied in second position, seeing the Colchoneros move ahead as they’ve reached their best state of form so far this season.
Having reinforced their squad with the arrivals of Diego Ribas and Jose Sosa in the winter transfer market, Atletico look now as one of the strongest teams in Europe. Their recent astonishing performances against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and Real Sociedad in La Liga have cleared the doubts on whether they would be able to compete as good in all competitions.
When many still thought Barcelona would be after all Real Madrid’s main rival to win La Liga this season, Atletico have confirmed they will not stop fighting, and they have even become favourites for many Spanish football analysts.
Atletico have indeed the passion, the skills and the determination that they showed in 1996, the last time they lifted the league trophy. They might not have the big budgets that allowed his rivals sign Neymar and Gareth Bale last summer, but they’ve add quality players to a squad that was already strong.
However, the main concern for their real chances to win the title are whether they will be able to reach the end of the season in good shape, taking in account their bench isn’t filled with world-class players, such as those of their rivals.
Atletico’s options to reign in Spain might be reinforced or weakened within the next eight days, as they face Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey semi-final. If they qualify for the final beating their arch-rivals, that will boost their energies, and they could even realise they not only can win La Liga and the Copa del Rey, but also seek something important in the Champions League.
Real have the chance to bring the Colchoneros down from the clouds, and if they fail there is no doubt Atletico will become their most dangerous rival in the fight for La Liga.
Barcelona need to improve defensively
As for Barcelona, it seems like Tata Martino is struggling to find the way of getting out the downward spiral they’ve been in for the last month. Key players such as Xavi Hernandez and Leo Messi are in poor forme, the former having recently turned 34 and the latter struggling physical problems.
With Neymar on the sidelines, the Azulgranas believe the return of their new star might bring them back to the right track. However, in order to fight for all competitions, they should start by improving their wobbling defence, just as Carlo Ancelotti has done with Real.
Barcelona still maintain the game style that made them win six titles in one season under Pep Guardiola’s reign. They also have a starting eleven full of Ballon d’Or candidates. Nevertheless, their weaknesses become more obvious for their rivals week after week. Of course they are strong candidates to win La Liga, but at the moment, and especially if they reach the Copa del Rey final, if there’s a team Los Merengues should fear, that is Atletico.