MADRID — Atletico Madrid were billed as serious contenders to win La Liga this season but three games in and they are already playing catch-up.
A creditable draw away to Valencia was followed by a stodgy one-goal win at home to Rayo Vallecano. By the time the whistle blew on a chaotic 2-0 defeat to Celta Vigo, Barcelona and Real Madrid were readying themselves for a third win out of three.
“I’m not worried,” coach Diego Simeone said. “I’m calmer than ever because it’s a wake-up call, a call for more focus.”
“But what is clear to me is that this start is the best thing that can happen to us.”
It also means five points stand between Atletico and Spain’s two grandees, who have swept up 13 of the last 14 league titles, with Simeone’s surprise triumph in 2014 the anomaly.
That was Atletico’s first in 18 years and a surprise of such gigantic proportions, that even Barca’s fans applauded when it was signed off at the Nou Camp, at their own backyard.
A repeat next May would be no less impressive but certainly more believable.
But it was their business in the summer, or rather lack of it, that deepened the sense this could again be their year. Antoine Griezmann felt like a new signing after he snubbed Barcelona — and announced it in a documentary — while the arrivals of Thomas Lemar from Monaco and Rodri from Villarreal bolstered two areas of weakness.
But defensive errors in the Super Cup win against Real have continued into the league, while Diego Costa, Griezmann and Lemar have yet to catch fire.
But they cannot afford another slip at home to Eibar today (7pm), particularly with the city derby at the Santiago Bernabeu fast approaching at the end of the month.
Their rivals could hardly have made a better opening under Julen Lopetegui, with a trip to come tomorrow (2.45am) to Athletic Bilbao.
In another match, holders Barcelona will be aiming to maintain their perfect start away at Real Sociedad today (10.15pm). — AFP