Whilst La Liga’s competition-killing TV money distribution arrangement keeps the top two league places behind a velvet rope for Barcelona and Real Madrid by giving them more than 50 per cent of revenues, the La Liga without the big two betting market has the feeling of an unofficial championship of its own and it’s one that seems to have Atletico Madrid’s name on it in 2013/14.
Los Rojiblancos are currently 5/4 favourites in the race for third and deservedly so.
Of the four sides to finish directly behind the Spanish big-two last term not one has emerged without market forces prising away at least one of their most important players.
Atletico have lost Radamel Falcao, Real Madrid have purchased Sociedad’s Asier Illaramendi and Malaga’s Isco with Valencia goal-machine Roberto Soldado leaving for Tottenham.
Of the quartet only the Madrid club have yet made what can instantly be recognised as adequate replacements with David Villa and Leo Baptistao coming in to fill the void left by the Colombian predator.
Valencia by contrast have replaced Soldado with the distinctly average Helder Postiga, the Basques have yet to sign a midfielder of any stripe and only time will tell if Malaga’s bulk recruitment has unearthed any gems capable of replacing Isco, Jeremy Toulalan or the Atletico-bound Martin Demichelis.
By contrast Los Rojiblancos are remarkably well set for the new campaign having finished 10 points clear of Real Sociedad in fourth last term, a season in which they conceded nine goals less than the division’s second best defence.
Whilst this would suggest that scoring goals wasn’t exactly their forte – indeed 28 of their 65 came from the departed Falcao – they still out-gunned all but Barca, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad last term.
The acquisition of Villa for a tenth of the Colombian’s transfer fee should see them a fair way back towards that total again if his three goals and two assists in the Confederation Cup is anything to go by.
Last season was the club’s first full campaign with Vincente Calderon legend Diego Simeone in the dugout and if the club continue their upward trajectory under the Argentinean then there will be no stopping them in the race for third, having proved they can cope with the extra squad demands of European competition over the past two seasons.