It’s always a tricky business to enter the world of predictions.
It’s an even trickier business to try and predict the fortunes of Atletico Madrid, given their propensity to either disappoint, or drastically exceed all expectations.
There have been plenty of occasions where Atletico have had a squad worthy of challenging for major honours, yet found themselves lounging in mid-table come the end of the season.
Likewise, people have written off Atletico’s chances, only to find them easing their way into Champions League qualification.
In fact, the last title that came their way in the 1995/96 season came the season following a last day escape from relegation and a complete overhaul of their squad.
As opposed to building on that success, Atletico gradually slipped down the table for the next four seasons, culminating in their relegation to the Segunda Division.
But now, expectations are rising again. Atletico have had a little run of success in recent years, bringing two Europa League titles into a trophy room that had been gathering a thick layer of dust.
The summer of 2011 brought a black cloud over Vicente Calderon, as both Sergio Aguero and David De Gea made big money moves to Manchester, with Aguero in particular making an instant impact in Manchester City’s surge towards the title.
The big money replacement of Falcao still didn’t placate the frustrated Rojiblanco fan-base, as they had felt a team fronted by Aguero and Diego Forlan was on the brink of pushing them back into the Champions League.
But some oddly prudent business in the transfer market saw Atletico finally address the gaping holes in their attacking line-up, with Arda Turan brought in permanently and Diego drafted in on loan.
The season started slowly until Gregorio Manzano became the latest in a long line of managers to be shown the exit door, allowing Diego Simeone to return to the club where he had become a legend as a player.
And something now feels different about Atletico. They seem more stable than ever, keeping their team together, whilst wheedling out some of the deadwood that needed shifting.
The finances may still be dodgy enough for UEFA to withhold their prize money from last season’s Europa League success, but the team is grittier and harder to beat than we have seen since they last lifted Liga gold.
The defence looks like a more compact and settled unit, with Diego Godin already looking the player they signed from Villarreal once not burdened with Luis Perea.
Diego may not have been brought in on a permanent deal, which came as something of a surprise, but the decision to instead bring in Cristian Rodriguez on a free transfer was inspired.
Then we move to the forward positions. After a summer soaked in speculation that the new hero on the block could be sold, Radamel Falcao remained a Colchonero, in order to build on an excellent debut season.
The Colombian started his career in Spain in stunning fashion, netting 24 times in the league and a further 12 times on the way to European glory, in a season where even he claimed he was still adjusting to the league.
A summer break in which Diego Simeone has really stamped his image upon the team means Atletico are now in a position to potentially make a challenge to the closed party at the top, meaning Barcelona and Real Madrid could find an extra party vying to steal away the precious silver.
Falcao is the key to any potential success and has displayed his indispensability, hammering home two hat-tricks already.
The first came against an Athletic Bilbao side in complete disarray following a turbulent summer that saw them lose Javi Martinez to Bayern Munich and Fernando Llorente becoming an outcast following his own attempts to escape, with some claiming Falcao was simply the beneficiary of good fortune.
But five days later came Super Cup glory, as Spain (and Europe) were treated to a master-class from Atletico, as they wiped aside Champions League winning Chelsea, who had invested heavily in some of the world’s top talents over the summer.
Falcao was the star of the show once more, as he scored a hat-trick again, with a stunning array of chances comfortably converted.
He has displayed his attacking repertoire since arriving in Madrid with the Colombian hit-man as comfortable bending a shot in from 25 yards as he is ghosting in at the back post for a tap in.
Falcao is the most in-form striker in world football right now and will be a massive part of any success Atletico can achieve, with fans tired of the chasm between them and their city rivals at the Bernabeu.
Now, with the most balanced squad they’ve had in over 15 years, Atletico have the best chance they’ve had since their return to the top flight to put some pressure on the teams at the top.
There’s no guarantee that they will overthrow the giants of Real and Barca this season, but now is as good a time as ever to close the gap and lay the foundations to allow a serious title challenge to exist in the near future.
Tags: Atletico Madrid, Diego Simeone, Falcao, La Liga, Radamel Falcao