Atletico Madrid capable of another title challenge
Madrid: Just days after claiming his side couldn`t challenge Spanish football`s elite for another season, Diego Simeone`s words were shot down by another stellar performance and trophy for his Atletico Madrid side on Friday.
Atletico ended the 10-year hegemony of Real Madrid and Barcelona atop La Liga last season with a stunning run to the title and were within 90 seconds of sealing their best ever season with a first ever Champions League triumph.
In the end they were denied by old foes Real as Sergio Ramos equalised in stoppage time in Lisbon before Los Blancos stormed to a 4-1 victory after extra time.
However, rather than suffering a hangover from that defeat and the loss of three key players in Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa to Chelsea, they healed some of those scars with a first home victory over Real in 15 years to win the Spanish Super Cup on Friday.
Simeone`s discourse remains unchanged. His reasoning that with both Madrid and Barca having spent well over 100 million euros ($133 million) each, their depth of quality will count over 38 games.
"Over one or two games we all have a chance. In a league of 38 games, the same Barca, having a bad season according to all the experts, nearly ended up champions," he said after winning his fifth trophy at the club in under three years in charge.
"Madrid too had a bad start to the season and if they had beaten Valencia at home four games from the end they would have been top.
"It is very difficult to fight over so many games, but in one match we are competitive and capable of beating anyone.
"Over a full year you need to do things extraordinarily well, at 110 percent like we did last year."
Atletico took advantage last year of a minor dip from the big two. Simeone`s men won the title with 90 points, a tally which wouldn`t have been enough to be champions in any of the previous four seasons.
However, they contributed to the lowering of that tally by claiming two draws with Barca and a win and a draw against Madrid in their four league games against the big two.
Moreover, there is reason to believe ahead of their La Liga opener away to Rayo Vallecano on Monday that they could even be stronger this season, particularly in attacking areas.
Mario Mandzukic has gotten off to the perfect start as he tries to emulate Costa`s prolific 36-goal season from last term as he scored the winner against Real after just 90 seconds on Friday.
The 30 million euro capture of French international Antoine Griezmann is a significant upgrade on the departed Adrian Lopez, whilst 23-year-old Mexican international Raul Jimenez could easily surpass the feats of an ageing David Villa.
Of more concern is whether Atletico`s watertight defence that led them to so many crucial 1-0 wins in the title run will remain as solid.
Vitally the central defensive pairing of Miranda and Diego Godin has been retained despite interest from Barca and Bayern Munich.
Guilherme Siqueira, a 10 million euro capture from Benfica, has the pace and La Liga experience from a spell at Granada to cope with the expectations of replacing Luis at left-back.
However, the biggest doubt surrounds another signing from Benfica, Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
The 21-year-old is the most expensive goalkeeper in Spanish football history after arriving for 16 million euros, but was benched by Simeone in favour of a much cheaper option in Miguel Angel Moya for both legs of the Super Cup.
For all the money spent by Chelsea on Atletico players in recent months, it is the Chelsea owned player in Courtois, who spent three seasons on loan in the Spanish capital, who is likely to prove the hardest to replace.