It’s been a strange summer at Atletico Madrid.
Well, strange from the on-looking neutral’s point of view, but from the position of fans and local media, if anything it’s been on the quiet side for Los Rojiblancos.
With a stable management team and a set of players actually prepared to see how far the club can go, this is the first time Atletico can genuinely say they’ve entered the season with a sense of optimism.
After finishing third last campaign and only narrowly finishing below neighbours Real Madrid, while also claiming their own Decima by winning the Copa Del Rey, Atletico fans are starting to build that sense of hope that so often leads to crushing disappointment.
This comes despite the loss of Radamel Falcao, which was oddly met with good grace from fans, despite ditching them and their Champions League campaign to play for newly-promoted Ligue Un side Monaco and their piles of cash.
For Atletico are used to seeing their best players come and go. The likes of Fernando Torres and Sergio Aguero before Falcao have always ended up being gobbled up by Europe’s elite, in order to pay off some crippling debts.
But with the club slowly getting their finances in order, there is belief in the owners and managers of the club not to steer them back into the mess they have emerged from.
This new-found belief in the club and the project at hand has been practically embodied by the form of Diego Costa, who turned down the opportunity to join Liverpool this summer after they activated his release clause.
He looks set to be the man to fill the gap left by Falcao, having enjoyed his first real foray into the Atletico first team since joining the club as a fresh-faced youngster in January 2007.
Having spent time bouncing between Valladolid and the treatment room, Costa finally got his chance to shine in La Primera during a loan stint at Rayo Vallecano in the second half of the 2011/12 season.
While Michu stole the plaudits and garnered all the attention, Costa made a big impact from January onwards, as he bagged a quick-fire ten goals in just 15 starts for the Vallecas-based side, while he created four goals in the process as well.
With Falcao still wearing the red and white stripes for the 2012/13 season, clubs paying attention could have picked up Costa for a snip of the €25m that Liverpool were prepared to pay this year, given Diego Simeone was still unsure of his ability and most of all, temperament.
But playing second fiddle to Falcao and the industrious, but hardly prolific Adrian, Diego Costa soon made his presence felt in the first team, ending the season with an impressive 20 goals in all competitions.
This saw him end the season as the Copa Del Rey’s top scorer, hitting eight goals in eight games, including the equaliser in the final victory over rivals Real.
Despite the signings of Leo Baptistao and David Villa at cut-price fees, Costa has been instated as the main man in the Atletico attack now, with Simeone rewarding him for his loyalty and commitment to the Colchenero cause.
And he’s started this season in fine fettle and looks on track to fill the void left by Falcao’s 35 goals having hit a brace in a tricky looking opener at Sevilla. This was quickly followed with adding a third goal in two games in this weekend’s demolition of former club Rayo Vallecano, with fellow former-outcast Raul Garcia netting twice and Arda Turan and Tiago getting in on the act as well.
If Costa can keep the headlines focusing on his footballing ability and not his now-infamous mean streak that earned him 11 bookings last season and saw him targeted by opponents trying to see him dismissed, then Atletico will have no worries about the distance widening at the top, or being clawed back by the chasing pack.
It seems Vicente Calderon is the perfect place for strikers to strut their stuff and revel in the role of goal-scorer.
If Costa and Villa form a devastating partnership, the dismissal of their title credentials could yet be proved somewhat premature.
LA LIGA RESULTS – WEEK 2
Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Osasuna
Atletico Madrid 5-0 Rayo Vallecano
Elche 1-1 Real Sociedad
Espanyol 3-1 Valencia
Getafe 2-2 Almeria
Granada 0-1 Real Madrid
Levante 0-0 Sevilla
Malaga 0-1 Barcelona
Real Betis 1-2 Celta Vigo
Villarreal 2-1 Valladolid
Can Diego Costa be the main man for Atletico’s ambitions? Tell us on Twitter @SmParker8