FT Spanish La Liga Preview: Title Favorites? Do Not Forget About Atletico Madrid

Over the last few years, we have seen the Diego Simeone assembled, Atletico Madrid transform from being just a club to a real-world phenomenon. They have notoriously appeared in two UEFA Champions League finals, won the Spanish League title, won three Europa league titles and two UEFA Super Cups in a space of just 9 years. In that process, we have also seen them switch stadiums in search of more breathing space for their success, moving from Vicente Calderon to the acclaimed Wanda Metropolitano. This is the kind of progression we saw under the Arsene Wenger era, at least during the days he was worshipped by the Arsenal fans. For a time such as this, where football clubs seem to be “buying their way to success”, more often the legendary clubs who were adored way before Atletico - what’s their place? I would argue that they will actually be going for the kill. They have what it takes to win anything this season.

Zero pressure for Los Rojiblancos

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When people talk about the Spanish Premier League, more often than not, two clubs come to mind. Barcelona and Real Madrid - the hosts of the infamous El Clasico derby, one of the most popular matches in all sports entertainment. These two teams are literally always competing against each other, on and off the pitch. In the 2018/19 season, Real Madrid will be looking to prove that they are still a force to reckon with when it comes to domestic football. After winning three consecutive UEFA Champions League titles, the La Liga crown might just be the priority. Rest assured, Barcelona will not let their hold on the top spot go without a fight, especially after the near perfect 2017/18 campaign in which they lost only a single game. Furthermore, Lopetegui’s Real Madrid will also be keen on proving that there is life after the 40+ goal machine, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mr. Champions League, Zinedine Zidane. Barca will have to make a case for their huge spending on the field of play. All these and many other factors leave Atletico with the least pressure to win titles under the microscopic lens of journalists, fans, and pundits - the kind of freedom that actually permits teams to grow and win. Remember they claimed 2nd place last season in the La Liga table, my money is on them now winning it this season.

They have all the right ingredients to win

There aren’t a lot of football managers who are as animated and demanding as Diego Simeone. He has been at the helm of the club during these remarkable nine years and is not slowing down. Manager, check! Let’s talk about the squad. Arguably the best goalkeeper in the world right now lines up in goal for Atletico - Jan Oblak. The 25-year-old Slovenian conceded the least number of goals in Spain last season. Atleti’s defense is Uruguayan made, with perhaps the best center-back pair in the world, Diego Godin and Jose Jimenez central to that wall of Jericho. Most of us might have seen how the defensive brilliance of these two carried Uruguay to the quarterfinals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In fact, Uruguay finished the group stages without conceding a single goal. Let us not forget to mention the 2018 World Cup winners in that setup, Lucas Hernandez, and Antoine Griezmann, who showed up big time for France in Russia. Did someone say, Diego Costa? Saul Niguez, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Koke etc - they will be eager to again represent Atleti’s colors.

Most interestingly, they have become quite a boring side, in the opinion of some, despite all their successes by reason of their conservative style of play. But who knows, perhaps this coming season will see some form of dynamism from Simeone’s men, after acquiring two dynamic and pacey young wingers in the form of Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins.

The Partey Factor

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona fouls Thomas Partey of Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on March 4, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.  (March 3, 2018 - Source: Alex Caparros/Getty Images Europe)

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona fouls Thomas Partey of Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on March 4, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.

(March 3, 2018 - Source: Alex Caparros/Getty Images Europe)

Here at FirstTouch, we try to highlight and emphasize more focus towards African players, and Thomas Partey is a real force in that midfield and deserves special mention. Not much can be said about his statistics because the game has almost been reduced to measure performance by the number of goals scored, irrespective of the position one plays. The 25-year-old Ghanaian is pretty much in that bracket of Barca’s Sergio Busquets and Real Madrid’s Casemiro when it comes to breaking up play, winning tackles and starting the attack. He appeared 28 times for Atletico Madrid last season and will most certainly be a crucial part of the midfield backbone.

Be afraid, be very afraid!

If you are a Juventus, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich fan or anyone else who fancies themselves winning the UEFA Champions League trophy, Atletico might just stop you in your tracks on their day. More than just frustrating your favorite team, they have real sharpshooters who can also score for fun with the slightest of chances. And yes, the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final will be held at their home, Wanda Metropolitano. I am sure they will be extra motivated to be playing in a Champions League final hosted in their cauldron of a stadium.