Can Atletico Madrid really challenge the Big Two in La Liga?

It’s a pattern that is more often than not set in stone. La Liga’s top two pulling away from the ‘best of the rest’ as Catalan giants Barcelona and capital side Madrid set the pace for the Primera Division. However, it isn’t the Madrid side that would historically spring to mind.

Instead, it’s Real Madrid’s local neighbours Atletico that are pushing Barcelona to the limit after nine games, having dropped just two points this season. It’s a mightily impressive feat for Los Rojiblancos, who continue to go from strength to strength.

Having picked up the Europa League last season and overcome Chelsea with minimal ease in the European Super Cup this year, head coach Diego Simeone deserves huge credit for the work he has done with the Spanish outfit, especially when you consider Atletico were considered a mid-table side as recently as 2010.

However, when Simeone can call upon a player of the ability of Radamel Falcao, it’s hardly surprising to see them placed so highly up La Liga. The Colombia international has already netted 13 goals in nine games for the Madrid side, 10 of which have come in La Liga.

El Tigre, as he is affectionately nicknamed, arrived at the Vicente Calderon last summer following two impressive years with FC Porto. The 26-year-old has adjusted to the rigours of Spanish football effortlessly, having scored 36 times last year.

His form has, unsurprisingly, seen a number of Europe’s heavyweights linked with a big money bid for Falcao, with Chelsea and Manchester City in particular both showing a strong interest in the prolific front-man.

Reports suggest that the Premier League duo are readying January moves for the striker, with Atletico believed to be readying a new contract offer for the player in order to ward off interest from abroad.

To say Falcao is important to Atletico would certainly be an understatement. The Columbian has, at times this season, carried the Spaniards through encounters, with their 1-0 win over Real Sociedad earlier this month, in which the front-man netted the winner, a testament to his capability.

Many believe that should be sold in January, Atletico’s impressive campaign to date would come to an abrupt end and one certainly feels compelled to agree with them. While Los Rojiblancos possess quality across the park, through the likes of Adrian Lopez, Arda Turan, Diego Godin and on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, none offer the same threat Falcao does.

As mentioned, the front-man has netted 10 goals in the Primera Division for Atletico this season, amounting to almost half of their overall tally of 22. Defensively solid, conceding just nine, it is likely that the flow of goals would come to an end upon his departure.

However, should Atletico keep hold of their prized asset, there is no reason why they cannot keep the current run going. With Courtois and Godin in the backline, the capital side have a strong platform for which to succeed, as evident through the nine goals they’ve conceded, with only city rivals Real and Malaga bettering the record.

They are certainly playing the right football, as their currently league position shows, having won their last six league encounters. However, they will encounter tough opposition at the weekend, taking on Valencia who, despite their perilous league position, will still provide a threat.

Should they overcome Los Che, then it can be considered a relatively straight forward November for Atletico, with Sevilla the toughest opposition they will encounter throughout the month. If they can continue their impressive run of form, there is the possibility they could find themselves in or around the top two, regardless of the power of Barcelona and Real, come May. 

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