Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has repeated time and time again that his team lives “game by game.” That has been the Argentine’s philosophy since he took over leadership of the club two years ago.
Every day, Los Colchoneros train for an intense 45 minutes with Simeone overseeing the entire process, and they train the same way they play, they put everything on the pitch. Unlike their La Liga rival Barcelona, Atletico’s style of play isn’t ‘beautiful’, but they are a tactically sound and fiercely passionate side.
That passion was on full display Sunday night in the Vicente Calderón Stadium. On an evening when Atletico Madrid honored the life and contributions of former Rojiblanco player and coach Luis Aragonés, the Atleti put forth a typical gritty performance that sent the 49,000+ in attendance into raucous celebrations after they defeated Real Sociedad, 4-0.
The win, coupled with Barcelona’s 3-2 home-loss to Valencia on Saturday, catapulted the Atleti into first place in La Liga; knocking the Catalan giants out of the Primera Division’s top spot for first time in 59 rounds.
Having already beaten Real Madrid in Estadio Bernabeu and drawn at home with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid now has first place all to themselves for the first time this season; 57 points after 22 La Liga matches.
Los Colchoneros ascent has been on display for the past four years. In spite of selling some of their most prized assets, the Atleti have won two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, and a Copa del Rey title over the last four season. They are currently in the Last 16 of the Champions League and were one of only three teams to go through group stages of the European competition undefeated.
Cynics have been waiting for the Primera Division to turn back into a ‘two horse race’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid. But match after match, Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid continue to impose their collective will on La Liga opponents and are showing no signs of letting up.
Atletico’s squad isn’t deep and the club’s wealth is dwarfed by league rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Following their draw against Barcelona early in January, Diego Simeone acknowledged the gap between his club and the La Liga giants: “We have a lot of respect for Barca. There’s the small matter of a €400 million ($539.2m) difference in budget, between us and Barca. With the tools we have, we’ve battled and fought to be where we are and that’s really good.”