Madrid: Champions Atletico Madrid are looking over their shoulders at pursuing Sevilla and Valencia rather than worrying about hauling in frontrunners Real Madrid and Barcelona, coach Diego Simeone said on Friday.
Simeone has had to do some rebuilding following the departure in the close season of leading lights like top scorer Diego Costa, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and fullback Filipe Luis after they helped Atletico secure a first La Liga title in 18 years in 2013-14.
While not perhaps quite as formidable as last term, Atletico are only four points behind La Liga leaders Real in third after 13 matches and two adrift of second-placed Barca ahead of their game at Elche on Saturday.
However, the fact that Simeone is more concerned about the two clubs immediately below his side in the standings suggests he believes it is more realistic to focus on securing third place and an automatic Champions League berth for next season rather than on challenging Spain`s wealthy big two.
"I have already said it, I am looking right now at Sevilla and Valencia," Simeone told a news conference.
"We are three points ahead of Sevilla, which is a lot, and five in front of Valencia which is a good number but there is still a long way to go."
Atletico, last season`s beaten finalists, are through to the last 16 of the Champions League and play at Juventus on Tuesday when the two sides will be battling to secure top spot in Group A.
Atletico`s 1-0 home win against Juventus in October means they can afford to lose by a single goal and still finish first.
Simeone complained that Juve, who play at Fiorentina in Serie A later on Friday, will have an extra day to rest.
"It`s good for Juve to play tonight and for sure they will prepare such an important match on Tuesday in the best possible way," he told reporters.
"But we are not thinking about Tuesday`s game and we are focused with all our strength on the one tomorrow."