Latest victory for Atletico Madrid leads to suggestions they could challenge for La Liga title
Atletico Madrid have quietly crept up the standings to second and suddenly find themselves being talked about as possible challengers to the La Liga hegemony of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Fired by the goals of Colombia striker Radamel Falcao and inspired by their intensely charismatic Argentine coach Diego Simeone, they are only two points behind leaders Barcelona following Wednesday's 4-2 win at Real Betis.
"Scare for Barca," blared the front-page of Madrid-based sports daily Marca today, next to a shot of Falcao celebrating one of his two goals in Seville.
The Europa League champions, who are known as the "mattress makers" and who last won the title in 1996 with Simeone in the side, have a chance for a rare taste of life at the top if Barca slip up at Sevilla on Saturday and Atletico can win at Espanyol.
Simeone told reporters after the Betis victory he and his players were not about to let their impressive early run go to their heads.
Atletico have yet to test their title credentials against Real or Barca, although their 4-1 destruction of Champions League winners Chelsea in last month's European Super Cup, when Falcao netted a hat-trick, suggests they may have what it takes to succeed on the big occasion.
"We are not paying attention to the points but to the opponents we have to play against," said Simeone, a tough-tackling former Argentina captain who was a fan favourite at Atletico and also had stints at Inter Milan and Lazio.
"The Spanish championship is very tough, above all to win away," the 42-year-old added. "Our focus is already on Espanyol."
Falcao's double in Seville took his league tally for the season to seven in five matches, one more than Barca's World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, last season's top scorer with a record 50 goals.
Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo has three and Atletico fans will have to pinch themselves when they see their bitter city rivals, who have had a woeful start to the defence of their title, down in seventh on only seven points.
As Atletico celebrate an impressive start to the season, however, speculation about Falcao's future continues to swirl and the cash-strapped club may be hard pressed to hold on to him, even beyond the January transfer window.
Falcao, who has a minor muscle strain and may be a doubt for Sunday's game, is refusing to feed the rumours and said on Wednesday he was completely focused on Atletico.
"We are just thinking about each match at a time and we are not making any general evaluation," he told reporters.
"The most important thing is the game next and we are just looking to keep getting past the obstacle of each weekend."
Barca can make it six wins out of six at Sevilla, before Real host promoted Deportivo Coruna on Sunday.
Stuttering Valencia, down in 15th on five points, are at home to Real Zaragoza on Saturday, when fourth-placed Malaga host Betis.
Real Mallorca have surprised by climbing up to third, level on 11 points with Malaga and Sevilla, and play at Getafe on Monday.
Latest in Sport
New day (slowly) rising – As Brasileirão gets underway, Brazilian football stumbles, rather than leaps into the future
The average Serie A crowd last year was 13,000 - comparable to Australia’s A-League.
by James Young
24 May 2013 04:31 PM
Monaco is a street circuit where driver ability is more important than anywhere else and if we take ...
by Gareth Purnell
24 May 2013 02:00 AM
Three weeks ago as I drove off the Eurostar, I remember thinking what a very long time it was until ...
by Martin Ayres
23 May 2013 05:29 PM
Why Manchester City were willing to fork out $500m on stake in MLS
Champions League final: Biggest German invasion since the fifth century as Borussia Dortmund face Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich: 50 things you should know about the Champions League final
Champions League final preview: Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund
Champions League Final: Can Jürgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund stop the Bayern Munich machine?
- 1 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 2 Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
- 3 Exclusive: How MI5 blackmails British Muslims
- 4 EDL marches on Newcastle as attacks on Muslims increase tenfold in the wake of Woolwich machete attack which killed Drummer Lee Rigby
- 5 Farewell, Shameless. Your heirs have work to do
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.