La Liga has been accustomed to being a two-horse race between usual suspects Real Madrid and Barcelona for a large chunk of the past two decades. However, Atletico Madrid joined the fray when Diego Simeone took charge in December 2011.
From a team that were regular mid-table finishers, Atleti punched over their weight to raise their standards and rewrite how Spanish football is dominated.
From winning the Europa League twice, to reaching the Champions League final twice and winning every domestic title available, Atletico Madrid are rightly one of Europe’s most feared teams.
Atleti last won the La Liga title in 2014 and have taken charge of the race this season until recently when they’ve seemed to take their foot off the gas with their lead getting trimmed.
Atletico Madrid haven’t got away with the Liga trophy just yet ? pic.twitter.com/Rw8l8PyXSV
— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 8, 2021
At some stage, they were as much as 10 points clear at the top, but it currently stands at three points following their 1-1 draw with cross-town rivals Real on Sunday while Barcelona beat Osasuna away from home on Saturday.
Los Rojiblancos have an outstanding match against Athletic Bilbao at home on Wednesday, but having failed to take advantage of an earlier game in hand, there’s that sense the men in red and white stripes will blow another opportunity to put destiny in their hands.
Real Madrid forces a draw vs Atlético Madrid on Karim Benzema 88th minute goal. He leads LaLiga with 5 goals in the final 5 minutes of games.
With the draw, Barcelona now have a 45% chance of winning LaLiga while Atlético drop to 40%, according to @FiveThirtyEight's SPI. pic.twitter.com/emlN1ABTla
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 7, 2021
How then has Atletico Madrid’s season imploded and so fast too?
Well as much as they were in top form for much of the campaign, their initial closest challengers in Real Madrid were never really far behind and it was going to take a lot to keep the momentum going.
There could also be an assumption that fellow La Liga side Levante are considered the “boogie man”.
Atletico Madrid have welcomed 29 teams to the Wanda Metropolitano in Spanish domestic competitions.
Real Madrid are the only club they've failed to beat. pic.twitter.com/qP7ZZ7TyOO
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 7, 2021
Real Madrid’s last defeat in the Spanish top-flight was against Los Granotas at home on January 30, their only league defeat in 2021 so far.
Atleti’s earlier game in hand was against Levante on February 17 and rather than take three points to extend their lead at the top, it ended in a hard-fought 1-1 draw. Like it wasn’t bad enough, Simeone’s side met them again in the space of three days and this time lost 2-0 in their own backyard.
Atletico Madrid play Athletic club twice , Sevilla once , Betis once , Sociedad once and of course Barcelona once ! So , they must be dropping points in some of the above games ! We have a fantastic chance now in the league ! Hope we don't drop anymore points !
— Gautam Vamsi (@gautamvamsi) March 8, 2021
They did see off Villarreal 2-0 on the road afterwards, but Sunday’s derby draw reflects an apparent struggle for Atleti who have just one win in five matches in all competitions (D2, L2), a form not experienced this season.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are now ready to pounce at any time and it is really going to be shameful if Atletico Madrid eventually surrenders their lead at the top of the La Liga table.
Los Blancos are defending champions but they never looked like they were going to retain it having failed to recruit during the two transfer windows this season, but rather were busy offloading players.
Barcelona were also not sure of the title with their off-field problems extending on the pitch and new boss Ronald Koeman not seen fit for the big job. Not also forgetting the fractious relationship between Lionel Messi and the club that nearly saw the Argentine superstar force a shock exit only to rescind the decision.
? SOUNDBITE – Atlético Madrid ?⚪️
Koke felt Atlético Madrid deserved all 3 points in the Derbi.
He was left ruing missed chances but insisted it’s all to play for in the title race.#LLL
— La Liga Lowdown ???⚽️ (@LaLigaLowdown) March 7, 2021
The Blaugrana also saw some big-name exits from the Camp Nou one was which was Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid for a massive bargain of £5 million.
The Uruguayan will prove to be the difference should they win La Liga thanks to his 17 league goals and counting which puts him second on the top scorer’s chart only behind his former teammate Messi.
Asides from Suarez, Atleti also purchased Alvaro Morata and Yannick Carrasco permanently from their initial loan deals, took Geoffrey Kondogbia from Valencia and also Lucas Torreira and Moussa Dembele on loan from Arsenal and Olympique Lyon respectively. All of these seen as bargains in a transfer market that saw limited and reduced spending due to the financial effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Atletico Madrid bottling it yet again. 88th min equaliser frm Benzema helped Real Madrid to a draw.Few weeks ago it seemed Diego Simeone's side will run away with La Liga title bt such has been their bottling tht despite having a game in hand,both RMA& Barca hav a chance #LaLiga pic.twitter.com/M1AsM6mP8n
— Yash Prasad (@imYash07) March 7, 2021
The season was therefore Atletico Madrid’s to take and they have no excuse not to win a second La Liga title under Simeone and 11th in their history come May 23.
Should they implode further and give it away to the less-strengthened title contenders, it will put a big stain on the impressive reputation Simeone has built over the past decade, and it will be hard to erase and forget such a humiliating fall from grace.
Will Atletico Madrid surrender their La Liga lead? Share your thoughts in the comments box underneath.
Photo Credit: Getty Images.