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.

Reuters

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit