Is a successful title defence too much to ask for Atletico Madrid?

Atletico Madrid shocked Spanish and European football fans alike last season, with their displays of impressive grit and determination, as well as their uncanny ability to turn hard work into great results.

Diego Simeone’s plucky side stormed the Spanish domestic season and gave Barca and Real Madrid a huge wake-up call in the process.

Whilst no one expected Los Colchoneros (Atletico’s bizarre nickname: The Mattress Makers) to finish 2013/14 as La Liga winners and desperately unlucky Champions League runners-up, the same lack of expectation continues to surround Atletico Madrid this season as well.

However, their success during last campaign has led some football fans to ask whether or not they can repeat the same miracles during 2014/15? The short answer – probably not.

Barcelona and Real Madrid look a lot stronger this time around due to having a resounding point to prove. The traditional La Liga giants lost out on the league title to a side whose squad cost less than that of the QPR team that got unceremoniously relegated from the Premier League the previous season.

Atletico’s money management within their squad was certainly impressive, but now that Real Madrid have broken a Spanish record by winning 21 La Liga matches in a row, and that the once defensively vulnerable Barcelona have only let in seven goals this season, both of Atletico’s rivals look a lot tighter in 2014/15.

In terms of the Champions League, whilst Simeone’s side have succeeded in topping Group A and now face a decent tie against Bayer Leverkusen in the next round, their competition is as strong as ever. Without mentioning either Barca or Real Madrid, Atletico also have the likes of Bayern Munich to contend with, as well as a Chelsea side who now boast some of the Vicente Calderon Stadium’s brightest stars of last season.

The transfer activity that Atletico Madrid underwent last season has therefore made things just that little bit trickier for Diego Simeone. New players always need time to bed-in to their new surroundings and get comfortable in a new league. The likes of Alessio Cerci, who wowed fans of Serie A with his goals last season, has found that task particularly difficult, having barely featured at all this campaign, whilst fellow new boy Antonie Griezmann has had to face a series of testing injuries that have held up his progress so far.

Mario Mandzukic definitely signals a good move for Simeone, perhaps Madrid’s ‘second team’ are missing the notorious Diego Costa, whose 12 goals already this season have propelled Chelsea up the Premier League, as well as Thibaut Courtios, who has kept things resolutely solid at the back for Jose Mourinho’s Blues.

On a final note, Diego Simeone must consider a change in his side’s style of play if they are to continue the progress they made last season. Atletico’s surprise factor is now gone and they have become a side that every team in La Liga will want to beat.

The feisty Argentinean boss, who is still probably absent from David Beckham’s Christmas card list, can no longer set his team out defensively and rely on the counter-attack. They are going to be given a taste of their own medicine from their domestic opponents this year, so perhaps a more expansive, possession based style is the best approach to take.

Whilst there are some definite promising signs for Atletico in 2014/15, such as the steady rise of Raul Jimenez who signed from Club America in the summer, more work needs to be done if they are to emulate their achievements of last season. Simeone’s side simply need to be more creative, more daring and even more focussed.

As toppling the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona will always be a tough ask, especially for the second season in a row, perhaps triumph in the Copa del Rey will be a more realistic aim for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid this campaign.