MADRID (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid were one of Spain’s most active clubs in the close season and some of the new faces at the Calderon are starting to make their presence felt after a slow start to life in La Liga.
Out went the likes of erratic Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic, sold to Juventus, and in came players including Colombia striker Jackson Martinez, Argentine forward Luciano Vietto and Belgium midfielder Yannick Carrasco.
Spanish playmaker Oliver Torres returned from a loan spell at Porto, while Filipe Luis was purchased back from Chelsea after one season in London.
Hopes were high Atletico, who became the only team apart from heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona to win La Liga in a decade in 2013-14, could mount a genuine challenge for silverware again this term.
Martinez, in particular, seemed initially to be struggling to reproduce the form that made him Portugal’s top scorer in each of his three seasons with Porto but both he and Carrasco were on target on Sunday as Atletico beat visiting Valencia 2-1 to stay hard on the heels of joint leaders Real and Barca.
Martinez scored for the second match in a row after his goal against Astana in the Champions League last week, while Carrasco’s effort would have made Real forward and FIFA Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo proud.
Winning the ball wide on the left, he galloped forward before cutting into the middle, evading one challenge and cracking the ball low into the corner, earning a huge ovation from the Calderon faithful.
Carrasco paid tribute to Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who as a combative midfielder for Argentina and clubs including Atletico, Inter Milan and Lazio was said to play “with a knife between his teeth” and is widely considered one of the best motivators in the game.
“The coach has given me confidence and he told me I had to shoot to score goals and that is what I did,” Carrasco told reporters.
“It was a nice goal,” added the 22-year-old, who joined Atletico from Ligue 1 side Monaco for a fee of around 20 million euros ($22 million).
“For sure it was difficult for me at the beginning but with hard work I hope to be in the starting lineup for the whole season.”
Real and Barca lead on 21 points from nine matches, with Atletico on 19 in third.
($1 = 0.9069 euros)
(Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)