Not since 1996 have Madrid’s second club, Atletico, won La Liga, and although it’s early doors in Spain, this season could see the duopoly of Barca and Real challenged for the first time in at least half a decade.
When Atletico lost prolific goalscorer Rademal Falcao in the summer to Monaco, albeit for a king’s ransom, many people anticipated that the Rojoblancos may go into decline, but a Brazilian-born player who may soon be turning out for Spain has softened the blow of the Colombian’s departure.
Diego Costa has stepped out of the shadow of Falcao to score 10 goals in eight games this season – equaling his total in the whole of 2012-13. He must be some player, for the Spanish FA (who are not short of quality choices) are aware that Costa has been given Spanish citizenship and have made enquiries about his eligibility to play for the World Champions. From October 3, this became a distinct possibility.
Costa scored the only goal when Atletico won 1-0 against Ronaldo and co. in the Bernabeu Stadium at the end of September. The Real fans were clearly agitated by the striker’s possible repatriation, with one or two banners proclaiming, “Costa is not Spanish”.
Another two goals last weekend against Celta Vigo meant that the 24 year-old has now netted 10 of Atletico’s 21 goals in eight straight wins – an impressive statistic. Atletico also have a 100% record in the Champions League, having beaten Zenit St.Petersburg (home 3-1) and Porto (away 2- 1).
The neutrals, and that now includes Euro football fans across the continent, are getting a little excited now as the Spanish championship race may develop into something more interesting than the past few years. Admittedly, the quality of Barca and Real is a joy to behold at times, but it’s akin to watching basketball – you’re basically waiting for one of the two competitors to slip up. For five years, it’s been Barca and Real in the top two. Atletico’s start to the season suggests they will give the big two a run for their money in 2013-14.
And they do have some money themselves. Falcao brought in over £50m and they’ve only spent a fraction of that, bringing David Villa to the club from Barcelona and teaming him up with Costa. Villa’s not found the net much yet, but as one pundit said of the former Valencia and Barca man, “He’s a scorer of great goals, not a great scorer of goals.” That said, there were a lot of people who felt that Premier clubs like Arsenal slipped up in not bringing Villa to England. There’s quality elsewhere, however, in the form of Chelsea-bound (at some point) Thibault Courtois, arguably the best keeper in La Liga, and young midfielder Koke, who has been inspired this season.
If anyone is looking for a sign that Atletico can be genuine contenders this season, then it is the derby win against Real. It was their first win against their more celebrated neighbours for 25 La Liga games over 14 years. And this was on the back of the Copa del Rey win in the Bernabeu at the end of last season.
It’s going to get tougher for Diego Simeone and his exciting team in the coming months. Barca and Real will not take kindly to see their superiority challenged, but so far it’s looking good for the Rojoblancos. It could make for the most compelling La Liga campaign in years…