Football

Diego Simeone's character makes Atletico contenders for La Liga

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The night of Atletico's Champions League final defeat to bitter rivals Real Madrid would have been a lonely one for Diego Simeone. If he defied all the odds in winning the La Liga title only a week earlier, capturing Europe's most coveted trophy with his unfashionable outfit would have been close to a miracle. If only Sergio Ramos wasn't fit, eh Diego?

After such a glorious season, the question on everyone's lips was: what now for Atletico? More importantly, what now for Simeone? He was linked with most clubs in Europe that summer, yet it would have taken a hugely uncharacteristic decision for Simeone to jump ship. He had a job to complete.

Rebuilding

The season after their domestic triumph was a solid, if unspectacular return. They were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finished third in the league - though that was by no means a failure.

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Some pundits predicted a meteoric collapse after such an exhausting season previously, but they should have known better. With Simeone at the helm, the chances of complacency were next to zero.

This season they look more likely to challenge once again: unlike last season, they have managed to retain most of their best players, although losing Arda Turan to Barcelona was a blow. Jackson Martinez and Vietto coming through the door have dampened any fears of goalscoring struggles; with their striking options alongside the return of Felipe Luis, Atletico look to have everything in place.

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Conquering the capital

Should Atletico dream of La Liga success once again, their main competitors lie away from Madrid. Barcelona look as strong as ever - it would take a gargantuan effort for any club to overcome them this season.

Fortunately for Atletico, their city neighbours don't look quite as threatening. Rafa Benitez has already annoyed Madridistas by failing to certify Ronaldo as the best player in the world - add that to his idea of playing Bale in the number 10 role - the Spaniard is becoming an unpopular man.

Some leading pundits in Spain think Atleti have a better chance than Real of competing with Barcelona; something tells me that's not what Simeone wants to hear. He thrives on being the underdog, now he's expected to challenge the club who won the treble last season - that's what being a champion does. If Simeone carries on defying the odds, he'll have to get used to the expectations placed on his gallant shoulders.

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Topics:
Football
La Liga

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