Diego Simeone is well used to upsetting the odds at Atletico Madrid. Time and again his Rojiblancos side have been written off yet they just keep on coming back for more; fitter, faster, harder and more competitive than ever.
It's a sign of the Argentinian's superb man-management skills that this modern-day pied piper is able to extract every last drop of sweat and toil from his every single one of his players.
Clearly, the respect is total. Whenever did we see column inches devoted to an unhappy player at Atletio? Never. It's precisely that sort of togetherness that will bond the players on undoubtedly their most important week of the 2014/15 season so far.
Six point gap?
A relatively routine assignment at home on the first weekend of the season vs. Levante shouldn't hold too many concerns for Simeone.
But then come two Copa sel Rey ties with Real Madrid, which sandwich a visit to the Camp Nou, a ground where La Liga was won last year.
Assuming a win for both Atletico and Barcelona on this year's opening league weekend, the Rojiblancos go into that match knowing that a defeat will open up a six-point gap between second and third in the table. A yawning chasm at this point in the season.
It's certainly not a scenario that those from the Vicente Calderon would be willing to entertain at this point. In any event, Real are first up.
A team with 22 consecutive wins to their name (excluding friendlies), and the team that denied Atletico a chance to retain the Copa del Rey last season, after beating them 5-0 on aggregate in the semi-final of the competition.
Real Madrid were on fire over the two legs and come into this season's tie in arguably better form. It's not just up front where Real have been a cut above either.
Toni Kroos continues to delight in the midfield, out-passing every other player in European football to this point, with the highest pass completion rate to boot.
Isco is enjoying a run in the side, and we see from the manner of his performances that the confidence and swagger that had been missing since his Malaga days has returned.
Simeone magic needed
The bad news for Atletico doesn't end there. Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Iker Casillas have shut up shop to such an extent that only Barcelona have a better defensive record in La Liga.
For years Spanish football has been decried as a "two horse race" and to that end, Atleti's emergence from the shadows over the last couple of seasons was warmly received.
Diego Simeone needs to work his magic now more than ever, or else he could be looking at a season-ending week before we've got to mid-January.
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