Atletico 4 wins away from Spanish title

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 14, 2014 at 5:37 am •  Published: April 14, 2014
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — With a smaller budget and no stars like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Atletico Madrid wasn't supposed to be leading the Spanish league with five matches left to play.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone's mantra for success has been to never acknowledge his team as a contender, insulating his squad from the hype and maintaining its focus on the game at hand.

That discourse finally changed on Sunday after Atletico beat Getafe 2-0 to extend its advantage to three points over Real Madrid, with Barcelona another point behind.

"From here on I am changing from 'going ahead game by game,'" Simeone said. "Now all of us Atleticos are going forward final by final."

Here are five things to know about Atletico's title bid with five matches to play:

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LONG TIME COMING

The last time Atletico Madrid won the Spanish league, coach Diego Simeone was wearing its red-and-white shirt as a midfielder. That was 18 years ago when the team claimed its ninth league title and also won the Copa del Rey.

Many of Spain's neutral fans are also supporting Atletico's bid because it would break Barcelona and Real Madrid's hold on the league title that they have divvied up for the past nine seasons.

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COACHING MATTERS

Diego Simeone returned to coach Atletico Madrid midway through the season in December 2011 and inherited a team in shambles.

Since then, the former Argentina international has transformed it. And he did so not by making massive signings, but instead by boosting the morale of his players.

He turned center backs Diego Godin and Miranda into the most trustworthy in the league and made midfielders Arda Turan and Tiago Cardoso into tough, physical competitors.

But even more impressively, Simeone recovered striker Diego Costa and playmaker Raul Garcia after both were loaned out for the 2011-12 season when they couldn't earn a place on the squad.

Diego Costa has exploded this season with 34 goals in 43 games, while Garcia has added 16 goals in 30 games.

Even Atletico's midseason moves to bring in Diego Ribas and Jose Sosa have paid off with both midfielders fitting in and contributing immediately.