FFT's Spanish expert, Tim Stannard, explains why last season's La Liga winners still have enough to fluster the Big Two again...
Hell yeah! *swigs beer, wipes mouth, grins, scoffs hot dog, looks pleased in a cheeky Matthew McConaughey manner*
Over the summer, La Liga Loca has grown a little tired of grumbling, miserable types bleakly dismissing Atlético Madrid's chance of retaining their La Liga crown. Indeed, if the word ‘fluke’ is ever used about the glorious title win of last season in the blog’s presence, there are Paddington Bear-style dark looks a’plenty and bogies snuck into coffee cups.
To be fair there may be a few valid points among the hubris, what with Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa leaving, and Real Madrid and Barcelona beefing up their squads. However, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the mighty Hobbits of the Vicente Calderón can defeat the forces or Mordor and Sauron (Real Madrid and Luis Suárez, for those not all with the elves).
Too many cooks
First off is the prediction that, once again, those wet Wednesday nights at Osasuna (hang on, they got relegated? Really?)... OK, those wet Wednesday nights at Almería will come to bite the Big Two on the bum, while Atlético polish off their ankle-biting opposition with aplomb.
That will assuredly be the case with Real Madrid if Carlo Ancelotti bends obligingly to the will of Florentino Pérez by playing a nine-man forward line, with Luka Modric shoring things up at the back. As Steve Nichol pointed out adroitly on ESPN, what on earth is going to happen when Madrid lose the ball?
Barcelona? A disaster waiting to happen with Neymar and Leo Messi showing no signs of being able to play together, even before the introduction of Luis Suárez at the end of October. Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves are waaaaay past their sell-by dates like soggy salad bags, and the constant yelling of Victor Valdés will be too big a gap to fill.
'Tis true that Atlético have lost Costa, but the big Brazilian bruiser was a one-and-a-half season wonder who has been moved on at the right time. Besides, Atlético have a proven knack of replacing their strikers with great success, as shown by the acquisitions of Sergio Agüero, Diego Forlán, Radamel Falcao and Costa over the years. There is no reason to think that Mario Mandzukic cannot achieve a similar level of success and knock in at least 20 goals.
Courtois will be a huge gap for Benfica arrival Jan Oblak to fill, but the core of the team from last season are still kicking about: see Diego Godín, Miranda, Tiago, Gabi, Koke and Arda Turan.
If there is still more convincing to be done, then LLL has a trump card stuffed down its blouse – the imminent €30 million arrival of France hotshot Antoine Griezmann. All that's left is for the 23-year-old to pass a medical before Diego Simeone's almighty coup is pulled off, and Atleti lay claim to one of the planet's most exciting young players. The youngster plundered 17 league goals last season, and his versatility across the frontline will add to a squad that looks fresh, hungry and experienced.
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Another key figure is also back at the Vicente Calderón – Diego Simeone. The Argentine has enjoyed a taste of glory in both La Liga and the Champions League, and LLL bets that El Cholo fancies a little bit more.
It could be that the three coffees and bad night’s sleep has turned LLL a little funny in the head, but the blog for one still believes that Atlético Madrid are going to carry off from where they left off: by being brilliant.