Atletico Madrid CAN topple Real and Barcelona to win LaLiga six years on from their title triumph – Diego Simeone has Luis Suarez and Joao Felix scoring for fun, Koke ‘Resurrecion’ is living up to his name and Yannick Carrasco looks reborn
- Everyone is beginning to suspect Atletico can topple Real Madrid and Barcelona
- At this early stage in the season, it feels as if history is about to repeat itself
- Diego Simeone has got both Luis Suarez and Joao Felix firing up in his attack
- While skipper Koke ‘Resurrecion’ is living up to his name with his performances
- Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente have also found their feet in Madrid
- Six years on from their title triumph, Atletico have the chance to do it all again
It’s 2013 all over again at Atletico Madrid. They have a scorned former Barcelona forward in their ranks out to make Barca sorry they ever got rid of him; their manager is repeating the ‘one game at a time’ mantra every time he is asked about the team’s title chances; and everyone is beginning to suspect they can topple Real Madrid and Barcelona.
For David Villa read Luis Suarez. Just as Villa left Barcelona for Atletico in 2013 so Suarez has made the same journey seven years later.
The big difference is that Villa left, in part, because there was a lack of chemistry between him and Lionel Messi. Suarez was told to pack his bags against Messi’s best wishes but for Atletico it’s all the same – just as back in 2013 they have gained a goal machine of the highest pedigree. He already has five for the season.
Everyone is beginning to believe that Atletico Madrid are the real deal in LaLiga this season
Six years on from their title triumph in 2013-14 campaign, it feels as if history is repeating itself
Atletico boss Diego Simeone has them playing like champions – but takes it a game at a time
But this title charge is not reliant on one man, far from it. Joao Felix, Yannick Carrasco, Marcos Llorente and Koke are all added reasons why this could be Atletico’s year.
With seven goals so far this season Felix is well on course to eclipse last year’s underwhelming first season at the club and he looks a completely different player alongside Suarez.
Gone is the sulking teenager who seemed to be deliberately turning a deaf ear to Diego Simeone’s instructions telling him to move wide in a game against Granada last season.
Diego Simeone has got both Luis Suarez (left) and Joao Felix (right) firing up front this season
With seven goals already, Felix is well on course to eclipse last year’s underwhelming season
There seemed little love lost at times between Simeone and Felix but now – just as he did with Antoine Griezmann – Simeone seems to be fashioning a player to suit Atletico’s needs and he is not afraid to alter the way his team plays either to meet the record signing from Benfica half way.
‘Luis needs people near him so he can play in areas where he can hurt teams and we are working on ways to do that,’ Simeone said of Suarez recently, but he knows the fact that Atletico are no longer strung out looking to defend deep and then launch counter attacks also helps the 21-year-old Portugal international Felix.
And if they do have to play on the break then boy can Carrasco do that! His brilliantly taken goal last week punished a rare error from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and helped put Atletico nine points clear of Barcelona.
Carrasco’s story is remarkable. He scored the goal in 2016 that brought Atletico Madrid level in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Milan.
Yannick Carrasco punished a rare error from Marc-Andre ter Stegen 40 yards from goal
Carrasco slotted home into the empty net to score the winning goal against Barcelona
There were just 11 minutes left when he powered in front of Lucas Vazquez at the back post to convert Juanfran Torres’ cross and cancel out Sergio Ramos’ opener.
Despite being one of the stars of that final he moved to the Chinese Super League at the start of 2018 to play for Dalian Yifang in what seemed like an odd move for such a young and talented player.
Football Leaks later claimed that when Atletico bought 80 per cent of Carrasco’s rights from Monaco for £15million in 2015, it was pre-agreed he would be sold after two seasons.
Last January he returned for a second spell under Simeone, shooting down the suggestion he had taken a sort of footballing sabbatical.
Carrasco told El Pais in March 2020: ‘People are wrong, they say that playing in China is easy because they don’t see the championship. I was running 10 to 12 kilometres per game.
Carrasco scored the goal in 2016 that brought Atletico level in the Champions League final
There were just 11 minutes remaining when scored and cancelled out Sergio Ramos’ opener
‘I had to play well to continue in the Belgian team and be able to return to Europe. I did not go there on holiday.’
His last coach in China was Rafa Benitez and his influence along with the Belgian international just growing up on and off the pitch has given Simeone back a far more complete player.
Not only did he cleverly flick the ball between the legs of Ter Stegen and then find the back of the empty net from distance to win the game against Barca, he was also the key man in Simeone’s tactical plan last weekend.
The Atletico coach had chosen to defend with a back-five when his team did not have the ball and it was Carrasco who was given the job of dropping back into a left wing-back role to mark Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele.
Real reject Marcos Llorente is a player reborn under Simeone and is now in the Spain squad
Carrasco’s pace is not the only frightening thing about this Atletico side.
Zinedine Zidane decided that he did not want holding midfielder Llorente at Real Madrid.
Simeone decided that Llorente should not even be in holding-midfield. He transformed him into an attacking force and Llorente is now in the Spain squad.
So is Koke – Koke Resurrecion to give him his fuller and now apt name given he has risen to the top of the passing stats once more.
The Atletico captain had been dropped by his country after several seasons of below-par performances that owed more to him filling in wide or deep than anything else.
Koke ‘Resurrecion’ – his fuller name – is beginning to roll back the years and make a comeback
This season Simeone has made room for him centrally and further forward and he is picking holes in opposing defences with laser precision passes that have everyone rolling back the years.
And he’s not the only one going back to the future.
Atletico have a former Barca forward scoring goals and Simeone wheeling out the old ‘one game at a time’ narrative every second or third question he is asked.
No wonder there is the distinct feeling that this side can do what the 2013-14 side did, and win LaLiga.
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