Total Football Analysis Magazine #1: November 2018
Artwork by @chapulana

For many fans of La Liga football, Antoine Griezmann’s defection to Barcelona is a reflection of just how much more prestige the Catalans still seemingly have compared to Atlético Madrid.

However, there are some factor that may work in favour of Atlético in the coming months, and their momentum is assured, in the wake of a 7-3 drubbing of Real Madrid in the ICC last month.

Few can be forgiven for thinking that a minor miracle will be needed to see the title change hands in Atlético’s favour. Yet, in addition to having a sizeable war chest after Griezmann’s £107m move to the Nou Camp, Atlético Madrid have also seen a resurgence in the form of Diego Costa.

Despite being linked to Everton in July, Costa has kept his head down and aced pre-season, with his newfound vigour seeing him net four times against Real in the ICC. On a personal level, it was his first hat-trick since September 2014.

‘Youth and Experience’ key to Success

Regardless of the fact that the ICC is a ‘friendly competition’, powering to a Madrid derby win anywhere is akin winning a trophy for any player with Costa’s famous temperament. It is in Costa’s very nature to utilise that momentum ahead of the new La Liga season, however, the presence of Joao Felix also promises to be a very positive influence on the mercurial Spaniard.

While Barcelona still have plenty of players in the most desirable age bracket (23-28), and the status of outright favourites in football spread betting for the Spanish top-flight, they are not infallible. Indeed, the negative aspects found within a heavy presence of those on the wrong side of thirty was recently laid bare, in the club’s humiliation in the Champions League semi-final second leg.

In Costa and Felix, however, Atlético boast that ever-desirable combination of youth and experience in the final third of the field.

Rush and Fowler, Beardsley and Cole, Cavani and Mbappe – these are but three examples of how a wise old head can help a young superstar make the most of being at a top club in Europe.

In an era where younger players can be turned and burn out, this sort of relationship can translate on a more personal, off-field level, and extend far beyond the referee’s final whistle. While ‘wise’ is perhaps not the first word anyone would associate with Costa, his sheer will to win can only do good for Joao, with the former Benfica star harbouring a whole new level of expectation.

Home Comforts Provide Competitive Edge

As with any assault on the La Liga title, maintaining the Wanda Metropolitano’s status as a fortress is vital to Atlético’s chances. There can be no denying that the Wanda Metropolitano is a special ground, and this was particularly evident at certain flashpoints during the spring run-in of the 2018/19 campaign.

Notably, for instance, Atlético entered April’s home clash against Celta Vigo after a run of seven La Liga home wins (with a clean sheet) over opposition outside the eventual top-three. That alone is a reflection of just how ruthless Atlético already are, and just weeks later – prior to their final home game (vs Sevilla) on 12 May – Atlético were also looking back on a run of 24 La Liga home wins that had been accompanied by a clean sheet.

Naturally, there is still plenty that could work against the Rojiblancos – and the first, and most obvious element, is injury on top of yet another two-fronted battle. Though Atlético look more than a match for their city rivals, and an aging Barcelona team that could soon be shorn of Philippe Coutinho, squad depth remains an area where they fall behind their podium-perched peers of 2018/19.

Costa’s injury history is already rich of course, and this combines forebodingly with the fact that Joao will be a target, especially for the more brutish opponents of La Liga. Many a desperate team will visit the Wanda Metropolitano in due course, and in knowing they have no chance of a result, will do everything they can to hurt the Rojiblancos’ prize assets.

Can the Rojiblancos Challenge for the Title this Year?

In short, yes – provided that Atlético’s main guns, including the revitalised Alvaro Morata, can stay healthy and consistent in form. A good start will also be vital, and fans of the club know that a perfect return from the opening six league games, which come prior to the first Madrid derby of the season, is the bar where a successful title challenge is concerned.

One of Atlético’s best attributes is the fact that they have been experts at holding out after netting first. Impressively, prior to the final home game of 2018/19, the Rojiblancos had conceded an equalising goal just seven times from the 29 occasions on which they had gone ahead. Atlético also had the top flight’s strongest defensive record last term, with just 0.76 goals conceded per-match on average.

Any repeat of that, along with the Atlético’s high rate of wins to-nil, will undoubtedly give the club a fighting chance of glory in 2020.