Diego Simeone has admitted that Atletico Madrid's title defence is over after being held to a 1-1 draw by Valencia.
The result means Atleti are seven points behind leaders Barcelona having only won one of their last four league games. Simeone even believes second place is beyond the champions and that they are playing for a third place finish.
Valencia themselves have been resurgent since Christmas and are only one point behind Madrid, with third place bringing the comfort of automatic qualification into next season's Champions League.
Sevilla are five points further off but still harbour hopes of playing in Europe's elite competition next season. "The league is long and we have always said that our championship is competing against Valencia and Sevilla", said Simeone after the game on Sunday.
"Neither could beat us in these last two matches and we still have the one-point advantage that we need to protect. Reinventing ourselves the way we have and competing the way we are competing is a great achievement for the players.
"Hopefully when the season ends we will have secured that third spot."
Koke's first-half strike was cancelled out by Shkodran Mustafi's header in a game Atletico dominated and will be disappointed to have dropped points in. Next up for them is a trip to Espanyol on Saturday before they are back in Champions League action next week when they host Bayer Leverkusen in the second-leg of the last-16.
Leverkusen take a 1-0 lead to the Spanish capital thanks to Hakan Calhanoglu's strike in Germany two weeks ago. Meanwhile Valencia, who do not have any European fixtures to worry about, host struggling Deportivo La Coruna on Friday night before hosting Elche the following week.
This season was always going to require a monumental effort by Atletico Madrid to replicate the success of last year. They won their first La Liga title in 18 years, securing the point they needed on the last day of the season at the Nou Camp.
However they suffered heartbreak in the European Cup, with Sergio Ramos equalising deep into injury time for arch-rivals Real Madrid before the Galacticos eventually won 'La Decima' in extra-time. Top goalscorer Diego Costa was then sold to Chelsea for £32 million, although Madrid did add Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Greizmann among others to their squad.
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