MADRID (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid’s defence is as rock solid as ever and if coach Diego Simeone can get his forwards firing on all cylinders they could have a real chance of winning something this term.
Simeone has had to integrate a host of new players in midfield and attack, with some like Colombia striker Jackson Martinez yet to find their feet and others like Belgium midfielder Yannick Carrasco flourishing.
After they won La Liga and reached the Champions League final in 2013-14, Atletico had a barren season in 2014-15 but again look to have a deep enough squad to challenge in Europe and in the domestic league and cup.
Sunday’s 1-0 success at Real Betis lifted Atletico above Real Madrid into second in La Liga and they are four points behind leaders and champions Barcelona after 12 matches.
A draw at home to Galatasaray in Champions League Group C on Wednesday will send them through to the last 16 with a game to spare.
They have conceded a mere six goals in their 12 La Liga games, the fewest in Spain’s top flight, and only two in four Champions League outings, with defensive stalwarts like Diego Godin, Juanfran and Filipe Luis typically efficient.
“We just have to keep doing our thing, above all being solid at the back, which is what has lifted us to second in the table,” Filipe Luis said after the win at Betis.
“We are second now but it’s an anecdote because the championship is very, very long and there are a lot of matches left,” added the Brazil left-back.
“We are happy to be up there, close to Barca, but right now they are a very strong team.”
Atletico’s victory, thanks to an early goal from their Spain midfielder Koke, not only kept them in touch with Barca but also put some distance between them and their probable rivals for a Champions League berth for next season, who all failed to win at the weekend.
Valencia drew 1-1 at home to promoted Las Palmas and are seventh, Sevilla were beaten 2-0 at Real Sociedad and slipped to 11th while fourth-placed Villarreal drew 1-1 at home to Eibar.
“We knew we had to take the three points in this game (at Betis) because Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal didn’t win,” Filipe Luis told reporters.
“Winning at a tough place to come like this gives us confidence for Wednesday’s difficult match.
“We have to keep fighting because the team is improving with every game.”
(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)