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Atletico Madrid to surprise in the UCL again?

ATLETICO MADRID CLUB FOCUS: What's going on in the 'other' side of Madrid?

February 24, 2016 By Michelle Bonsu
In the 2013/2014 season, Diego Simeone's side shocked Spain - and Europe - after they won La Liga and made it to the finals of the Champions League. Two years later, LiveSoccerTV takes a look at what's going on so far with Los Rojiblancos in the 2015/2016 term.

Although it is not always fun to be in the shadows, one advantage sometimes of being a younger sibling in a family is that there is not as much pressure on one's shoulders. Sure, it is not pleasant having to follow in the footsteps of an elder sibling, especially if he or she is widely successful, but at the same time, there is usually more expected of the first-born to act as a trail-blazer and set a good example for those that follow in his or her stead.

In the case of football, specifically in Spain's La Liga, the "elder siblings" are of course, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, who, for as long as fans can remember have been the dominant two sides in the country's top flight. Indeed, these two teams have been the center of attention, attracting the world's top players and basically making La Liga the most predictable league in terms of who will win the title at the end of the season a running joke is that one will (usually) have a 50 per cent chance of predicting who will lift the trophy each May.

So, if the Blaugrana and Real are the two "big brothers", then Atletico Madrid will represent one of several "younger brothers" hovering in the background, and quietly working diligently towards achieving acclaim of their own as all the accolades and spotlight are shined on the glittering duo. After making return to Spainish football's top tier following a promotion at the end of the 2000/2001 season, Los Rojiblancos have slowly and steadily made their way back into mainstream conversation whilst pulling off quite a few shocks along the way, especially since the arrival of Argentinian tactician Diego Simeone.

The arrival of Simeone and Atletico's rise to prominence in Spain and Europe

Under Quique Flores, Atletico won the Europa League during the 2009/2010 season - their first continental title since the 1961/1962 term - and this was all whilst finishing ninth in La Liga. However, with Simeone taking over  December 2011, the team quickly began to prove that their Europa League triumph was not just a fluke, but the sign of more surprises to come.

In just half a season, the former midfielder - who spent two spells with Atletico - had guided the team to their second Europa League triumph in May 2012, whilst finishing in a decent fifth place and followed that up with Copa del Rey and UEFA Super Cup wins in his first full term at the Vincete Calderon.

But it was during the 2013/2014 campaign that Simeone would pull off his biggest upset and show that La Liga's "little brother" had what it took to mix it up with the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Not only did Los Rojiblancos become the first "other team" since Valencia did so in 2004 to win the league title, but they achieved this in record-breaking fashion, accumulating a club-high 90 points, besting the 87 they had achieved back in 1996.

Under Simeone, Atletico won their first La Liga title since 1996 and made it to their first UCL final since 1974

Although they were unable to defend their La Liga title last season nor replicate their same impressive run in the Champions League, they nonetheless beat their bitter rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, and more important, beat them twice in the Madrid Derbies, including a 4-0 hiding in a match Atletico fans will surely remember for a long time.

So what's in store for Simeone and Atletico this season? What are their chances at lifting any trophies?

Despite their impressive form during the 2013/2014 campaign, Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to hog the spotlight in Spain, which has allowed Atletico to, as usual, go about their business quietly without much fuss. In terms of La Liga, they currently sit in second, eight points behind the Blaugrana and will face a tough task to catch up to Luis Enrique's side, especially following a 0-0 draw against Villarreal last weekend.

Still, taking a look at Atletico's stats so far this season will reveal some impressive results. For starters, although they have scored just 35 goals, they have still managed to remain in second spot, ahead of their city rivals Real Madrid. And with just 11 goals conceded, they again remain one of the best defensive units in not just Spain, but across Europe.

In England, France, and Italy, it's Tottenham (with 20), PSG (with 13), and Juventus (with 15) who are the Premier League, Ligue 1, and Serie A's strongest defensive sides. Only Bayern Munich, who also has conceded 11 can match Atletico's feat domestically, and having shipped just three goals in the Champions League group stages, Simeone's side can only be bested by PSG, who conceded just one. To top this off, they have kept an excellent 23 clean sheets out of 37 games across all competitions and have only conceded more than one goal in just four of these matches.

French striker Antoine Griezmann has continued his good form in his sophomore season with Atletico, and whilst he has hit a bit of a goal drought as of late - with no goals in his past five La Liga matches - the former Real Sociedad man is still shouldering much of the goal-scoring work with 12 goals so far - or over one third of his team's total of 35.

With 12 goals and two assists, Griezmann has been directly involved in 14 goals - or over 1/3rd of Atletico's 35 in La Liga this term

Given that other strikers Fernando Torres, Angel Correa and Luciano Vietto have only managed seven between them, Simeone will hope that Griezmann - who was substituted off during the 0-0 draw with Villarreal will find his shooting boots quickly. In total, the young French international has netted 19 in all competitions, including four in the Champions League and having finished top of their group, Los Rojiblancos have been rewarded with a favorable round of 16 draw against Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.

With the Copa del Rey set to be decided between Barcelona and Sevilla at Atletico Madrid's home ground, and the La Liga title looking highly likely to remain in the Catalan giants' hands for another season, the Champions League thus represents Atletico's only shot at clinching any silverware for this campaign. It is not something that is entirely impossible; after all, no one expected them to make it to the 2014 final, but they did, knocking out sides like Barcelona and Chelsea along the way.

They were painfully close to lifting it were it not for a late equalizer by Real Madrid to push the game to extra time. And last season, Simeone's troops put up a tough fight against their cross-town rivals for nearly 180 minutes during the quarter-finals only to be undone again, by the tactical nous of Carlo Ancelotti and a late goal.

In PSV they have a side that whilst ambitious, is not a team that should ruffle their feathers too much. Should they get past their Dutch opponents into the quarter-finals, Atletico have shown over the past two seasons that they have what it takes to mix it up with the top sides in Europe. Simeone's team are a group that enjoy their underdog status and being underestimated.

As such, in the absence yet again of high expectations, as many as usual omit them from the names mentioned as contenders to lift the coveted continental trophy, this is where certainly they could pull off yet another surprise and make it the final. And from there, as football fans knows, it is truly anyone's match. 

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