On a weekend in Spanish football during which Barcelona lost at Nou Camp for the first time since April 2012, Atletico Madrid assumed the leadership of La Liga and who would bet against them upsetting both Real Madrid and Barcelona by claiming the league title at the end of the season.
Under the management Diego Simeone, Atletico have gradually improved as a team since his appointment in 2011. Last season, they beat their city rivals in the Copa del Rey final which followed Europa League and European Super Cup victories in 2012.
When leading striker Radamel Falcao was sold to Monaco last summer, it was generally assumed that Atletico would no longer be challengers to the Barcelona / Real Madrid supremacy in La Liga, but Simeone silenced the doubters. The acquisition of veteran marksman David Villa and the increased contribution of Diego Costa in the goalscoring stakes have allowed his team to become even more formidable.
After Barcelona lost 3-2 at home to Valencia and Real Madrid could only draw 1-1 at Athletic Bilbao, during which Cristiano Ronaldo was dismissed for fighting, Atletico now stand three points clear at the top of La Liga having lost only one league game all season.
Such is the level of competition at the top of La Liga that with one defeat, ground can easily be lost on the leaders. With just two defeats this season, Barcelona have already lost more games than last season but they now occupy second position and can ill-afford to drop any more points if they wish to retain their title.
Contrast this position with the last occasion in which Atletico Madrid won the Spanish title in 1996. Then four more games were played during the campaign, but La Liga was claimed with Atletico losing seven matches and Barcelona finishing third with six defeats while Real Madrid languished in sixth place.
Those were the days when the league was much more competitive and before television rights and Champions League money became a serious issue affecting several European leagues.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have been the dominant figures in Spanish football for several years on account of these increased revenue streams and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. However, Atletico are now challenging their monopoly under the astute guidance of Simeone and perhaps it would be a pivotal moment for La Liga should they secure the title at the end of the season.
It would prove that the elite teams can be challenged given the correct management, but the ultimate and longstanding success of Atletico Madrid may eventually be determined by how long they can actually retain the services of Diego Simeone.
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