x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Atletico the Real deal

The Real Madrid midfielder Wesley Sneijder believes city rivals Atletico could mount a genuine title challenge to his side and Barcelona this season.

Atletico Madrid's Kun Aguero, front, has helped the club to a flying start this season.
Atletico Madrid's Kun Aguero, front, has helped the club to a flying start this season.

MADRID // The Real Madrid midfielder Wesley Sneijder believes city rivals Atletico could mount a genuine title challenge to his side and Barcelona this season. Atletico have not claimed any major silverware since winning the Primera Liga and Copa del Rey double in 1996, but they have shown gradual improvement in the last four years and finished fourth last season.

Spanish media and fans are trumpeting their eye-catching start to the season and talking up their chances of trophies. Their third consecutive 4-0 win at the Calderon on Saturday, when they steamrollered a poor Recreativo Huelva, built on the side's impressive 3-0 away victory against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League during last week. They lie fifth in the league with six points from three games, one behind leaders Valencia.

When asked if he thought Barca would be their biggest rivals for the title, Sneijder, whose team host Sporting Gijon tonight, told AS: "Yes, but we also need to be careful about Atletico Madrid. They have a very strong team. "I saw them in the game against PSV, they won 3-0 and it's not easy to do that there. It seems as though it was easy, but it's not. "Atletico have a very strong team to win the league."

As for their rivals from the Nou Camp, Sneijder added: "Barcelona have many quality players, but they are still not a team. "Although it's true that at the end Barcelona and Madrid will be fighting for the title." Sneijder has missed the start of the season due to injury and is due to returns to action for the Oct 5 match against Espanyol. Atletico, though, are trying to keep a lid on expectations as they prepare to visit near neighbours Getafe for the southern Madrid derby tonight.

"We have only played three rounds of matches and teams are still under construction, and experimenting with line ups and systems of play, so it's a little early to start making predictions," said Atletico's former youth-team midfielder Miguel de las Cuevas. "We have a team capable of competing for everything but it is another thing whether we have the luck to go with it." * PA Sport