x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Atletico Madrid not speculating over title tilt

Given their rotten luck and financial muscle of Barcelona and Real Madrid, capital side are focused on present, writes Andy Mitten.

Atletico Madrid have lost just one Primera Liga match, and they are unbeaten in three Champions League games so far. Alexander Klein / AFP
Atletico Madrid have lost just one Primera Liga match, and they are unbeaten in three Champions League games so far. Alexander Klein / AFP

The perfect runs had to end sometime. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, with eight successive league wins and their 100 per cent start to the season, both dropped points at the weekend.

Barcelona drew at Osasuna, where they lost in 2012, while Atletico were defeated in Barcelona at Espanyol.

Neither will be too troubled by the defeats and both performed well in Tuesday’s Uefa Champions League, Barca drawing 1-1 against AC Milan at the San Siro, Atletico beating Austria Vienna 3-0 away.

Diego Simeone’s side have won all three Champions League games so far, so qualification to the knock-out stage is virtually assured.

Atletico have a proud history in Europe, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1962 and the Europa League in 2010 and 2013.

They also reached the final of the 1974 European Cup and were minutes away from beating Bayern Munich when the defender Georg Schwarzenbeck hit a speculative long-range shot in the 120th minute.

It went in and forced a replay two days later, which Bayern won 4-0.

Bad luck and Atletico have been unfortunate bedfellows, but the next couple of months are crucial for this excellent Atletico if they are to be title contenders.

They started last season brightly and were seven points ahead of Real Madrid in January but eventually finished below them as they ran out of steam in the closing weeks of the season.

A smaller, weaker squad than the giants they are trying to topple is a problem, as is working with a playing budget a quarter of the size.

“I think it’s really difficult to fight Real Madrid and Barcelona,” said Felipe Luis, the Brazilian defender.

“Real Madrid can afford to buy a €40 million (Dh202m) player and leave him on the bench. Barcelona can do the same thing.

“This makes a big difference in a 38-match league. Atletico have got a great squad, a very competitive one, but for a 20-game season, not a 38.

“Their budget is much bigger than ours. At the end of the day, it makes the difference.

“That’s why we try to concentrate on each game and not think about the title yet. Simeone has forbidden us to give interviews speaking about the future.”

We already have seen how competitive Atletico are in the first half of the season. It remains to be seen if the second half of this campaign will have a different narrative.

sports@thenational.ae