Over the past ten seasons, Barcelona and Real Madrid have finished first and second in La Liga eight times. During that time, only two clubs have been able to break through the Spanish giants’ dominance of the Primera Division: Valencia (who finished in first place in 2003/04) and Villarreal (who were runners-up in 2007/08). The past three seasons, Barcelona and Real Madrid have finished in the top two each year with the next closest Spanish team (third place) trailing them by an average of twenty-two points.
Last season, Atletico Madrid finished in third place and along the way won the UEFA Super Cup before topping off their season with a defeat of Real Madrid in El Copa del Rey; a victory which ended a 14-year (25-match) winless streak in El Derbi Madrileño. A few months later, at the start of the 2013/14 season, Atleti once again walked into the Santiago Bernabeu and beat their local rivals, 1-0.
As of today, Atletico Madrid are level with Barcelona on points (40) after 15 games in La Liga; the two clubs are only separated by goal difference (Barcelona-33, Atletico Madrid-31). Los Colchoneros have already defeated their closest competitors, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao; they settled for a 1-1 draw against fifth-place Villarreal.
A pinnacle match of this season will take place on January 12 when Barcelona travels to Madrid for what looks like a head-to-head battle between Spain’s current top two clubs. If both teams hold to form and Atleti come out on top of that matchup, the club will finally have the footballing world’s attention. Something they have truly deserved up to this point.
Before the start of the season, there weren’t many football experts picking Atletico Madrid to be competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid for the top spot in La Liga. But the facts are, over the past four seasons Atletico Madrid has won two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, and a Copa del Rey title. The alarming thing about these accomplishments is the Atleti were able to win this silverware while selling off major talent to other European clubs.
The summer transfer of Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid to AS Monaco could be the last time the Spanish side has to sell one of their prized players to another team. This season, the club renewed the contracts of many of their young players through 2016 and 2018. So goal scorers Diego Costa, David Villa and Raul Garcia will continue to benefit from the playmaking skills of young midfielders Koke and Óliver Torres during future seasons. While Atletico’s defense will continue to be solidified by the stonewall centre-backing pair of Diego Godin and Miranda.
The feeling in Madrid is that the players are eager to remain with Los Rojiblancos while they continue to flourish under the leadership style of their Argentinian manager, Diego Simeone, and because they believe in the club’s ambitions.
The corporate side of the club has been doing well with a Daimler showroom built into the side of the Estadio Vicente Calderon, and a massive club shop doing strong business. As a result of the revenue earned from sold out stadiums, a prosperous club shop, corporate sponsorships and long European cup runs, the club has been poised to succeed on the domestic and European scene.
Now, Atletico Madrid have plans to leave their current home ground and move into a new 67,500-seat stadium at the start of the 2015/16 season. Atletico’s new home will be built at the current site of Estadio La Peineta (‘La Peineta’) which is located in the east of the city of Madrid; only a few miles from the city centre and very close to the Barajas International Airport.
‘La Peineta’ will be a soccer specific stadium with roughly 12,000 more seats than Atletico’s current home ground. The €200 million project ($275 million) will provide Los Colchoneros with another financial weapon to compete against Spanish giants: Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Atletico Madrid has already secured their position as group winners heading into Wednesday’s Champions League match versus FC Porto. The Spanish club reached that goal prior to their last European contest at Zenit St. Petersburg; a contest which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Los Colchoneros’ supporters are finding it hard to keep their heads out of the clouds with their beloved club sitting top of their Champions League group as well as La Liga. But manager Diego Simeone has his team focused on the task at hand. Recently, the third-year manager addressed his club’s ambitions:
“We’re doing everything we can to be competitive. We take each game as it comes, and that’s how we aim to achieve the goals many are dreaming of.”
Simeone was scandalously left off the shortlist for FIFA’s 2013 Coach of the Year while managers such as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger were included. Atletico Madrid President Enrique Cerezo said he was “disappointed” his club’s manager had not made the shortlist. It’s safe to say that the president isn’t the only one at the club who feels that way. From the way they have performed game in and game out, the players appear to be fighting for their manager as well.
There weren’t many people predicting that Atletico Madrid would break Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on La Liga’s ‘top two’ at the start of the season. But the club, its manager and players have their minds focused on one goal, and that is to place a red and white flag at the summit of Spanish football.