La Liga: the return of the post-2004 two horse race?

Barça win their 23rd title, Real Madrid finish 2 points behind with Atlético in a distant 3rd.

Atlético Madrid’s 2013-14 La Liga title was a welcomed relief for many partisan football fans fed up with the recent Barcelona-Real Madrid monopoly. After Valencia’s title in 2004, the Spanish league had generally been a two horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barcelona won an impressive 6 league titles in 9 years (being runners-up on two other occasions), while Real Madrid won the other 3 league titles with 6 second place finishes.

Atleti were convincing as champions in 2013-14 with an undefeated home record, a 13 match unbeaten streak and a 9 match winning streak. Though Atleti’s coach Simeone admitted that defending the league title would be a difficult task, the team looked sharp early in the 2014-15 season with a 2-1 away victory to Real Madrid in week 3 and a convincing 4-0 win over Sevilla a few weeks later. Even though Atleti spent the majority of this season at 3rd and had a realistic chance of winning the league, after successive draws against Sevilla, Valencia and Espanyol in March it was clear that either Real Madrid or Barcelona would be crowned champions. Barcelona eventually secured their 23rd title at the Calderon (congratulations for a well-deserved title) with Real finishing 2 points behind to return Spanish football to its post-2004 normalcy. Atleti secured the 3rd automatic Champions League spot after a dull 0-0 draw at Granada finishing 16 and 14 points behind Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Is this the return of the Spanish two horse race? Can Atlético Madrid genuinely challenge for La Liga next season? The squad certainly has the courage and the heart (#corajeycorazon) and some quality players in the likes of Griezmann, Koke and Oblak, not to mention Simeone’s impressive ability as a coach. Discipline, however, will be key if Atleti are to challenge Spain’s big two again next season as the team has gained the reputation for being dirty. Many times Gabi, Raúl García and Siqueira have been red cards waiting to happen. Moreover, Atleti may want to consider a new quality strike partner for Griezmann as Mandzukic has not been that effective at the front (maybe he will be more settled in his second season), Torres has been more of an impact player, and self-confessed Real Madrid fan Raúl Jiménez is not exactly the ‘pichichi’ material.

Atleti may not have world class players on the level of MSN in Barcelona (Messi, Suárez, Neymar) or BBC in Real Madrid (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) but they play as a unit and they play their hearts out both for Simeone and for the fans.

On paper Atlético Madrid (and all the other teams for that matter) are far behind Barcelona and Real Madrid but when has football ever been played on paper?

Contributor- Chantal L

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