La Liga Lowdown
Do Atlético Madrid Have The Right Striking Force To Become LaLiga Champions?
The team is in a good place at the moment, and they’ll want to prove that their 2-0 loss to Real Madrid at Valdebebas earlier this month was merely a blip in an otherwise superb season so far.
As it stands at the time of writing, Atlético are level on points with their cross-city rivals with two games in hand over them, but obviously Madrid have a better head-to-head record, courtesy of that recent victory. Most important, though, was the way Los Colchoneros responded to that defeat (their only one in LaLiga this campaign), first by dispatching promoted side Elche who almost kept them goalless until half-time at the Wanda Metropolitano but eventually succumbed 3-1, and then by winning 0-2 at Real Sociedad. The Txiri-urdin had themselves been impressive until a month ago, when a draw at AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League signalled the start of a nine-game winless run, and losing to Atleti at Anoeta was their third straight defeat in LaLiga.
And just as La Real’s form started to drop off, Atleti registered perhaps one of their most significant victories so far: 1-0 at home to Barcelona. Not only did Yannick Carrasco’s first-half injury-time goal give Diego Simeone’s side all three points, but it was also his first ever win over Barça in LaLiga as Atleti head coach…at the 18th time of asking. And now Atleti are eight points ahead of Ronald Koeman’s side with a game in hand.
They managed to keep Lionel Messi quiet on that occasion, although he has since reached another extraordinary milestone in his career by scoring the most goals ever for a single club: 644 for Barcelona compared to the 643 that Pelé scored for Santos.
While Messi and indeed Cristiano Ronaldo continue to defy the odds and their age, both had to concede defeat in the FIFA Best Men's Player of the Year award. They were both pipped to the post by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.
Last year, in Sportingbet's Deadliest Striker in Europe table, measured over the past five years, the Pole came second behind Messi. But this season Lewandowski is on fire, easily outstripping all others and could well take over the prized first spot.
As far as the FIFA Best Men's Player of the Year award is concerned, it is the first time since the award was launched separately from the FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2016 that the prize went to a player outside LaLiga. Before that, when it was only the Ballon d'Or, you have to go back to 2008 when another non-LaLiga player took the award. It was Ronaldo, who at that time played for Manchester United.
Having a top goalscorer in the team helps any club to win titles and trophies. For Atletico Madrid, that man currently is Luis Suárez. Only Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno has more than the Uruguayan’s six goals, the last two of which came in the 3-1 win over Elche. What’s been particularly pleasing for Atlético fans has been his partnership with João Félix. The Portuguese 21-year-old has registered five goals and two assists in LaLiga, and having endured a difficult first campaign at the Wanda when a €127.2m move from Benfica appeared to weigh heavy on his shoulders, now João Félix looks to be playing with confidence and freedom, in a new tactical system devised by Simeone.
The pair will certainly need to keep up their form if Atlético are to maintain their position at the top of LaLiga. Can they do it? If they don’t, they’ll only have themselves to blame.