BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — It's rare for a champion not to even qualify as a candidate to defend its title. But Atletico Madrid must be considered a long shot to hold onto its Spanish league crown after losing several players while Real Madrid and Barcelona both bolstered their already spectacular squads.
In Atletico's favor is coach Diego Simeone, the man who proved to be a master at the art of forging a team that is more than a collection of its parts.
Here are five things you should know about Atletico before it opens its Spanish league title defense at Rayo Vallecano on Monday.
Atletico Madrid has had to acquire a new set of forwards after losing its entire attack this offseason.
Atletico may have beaten Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals last spring, but Jose Mourinho's club took a particularly sweet sort of revenge by plucking away leading scorer Diego Costa along with talented left back Filipe Luis and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Striker David Villa also left to play in the United States while forward Adrian Lopez was sold to Porto.
In their place Atletico signed Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich, France's forward Antoine Griezmann and Mexico's Raul Jimenez.
Griezmann should prove to be an upgrade on an aging Villa thanks to his speed, but the main goal-scoring duties will fall on Mandzukic.
Atletico has succeeded in signing good strikers each time it loses one to a bigger club. Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, and Diego Costa have all triumphed and then promptly packed their bags.
Now Mandzukic will have to fill the void left by Diego Costa and his team-leading 27 goals in the league last season.
"We know that Mandzukic and Griezmann don't have the same characteristics as Costa," said coach Diego Simeone. "We will have to discover how to exploit the characteristics of each one."
Coach Diego Simeone has led Atletico Madrid from one title to the next.
In 2012 it was the Europa League and European Super Cup. Then came the Copa del Rey in 2013. Last season Atletico ended its 18-year wait for the Spanish league title before it came close to adding the European Cup.
Simeone's ingrained the mantra "going forward game to game" in his players, while rejecting comparisons with Real Madrid and Barcelona because of their bigger budgets and squads packed with high-profile players.
Now as champion, it will be seen if Simeone sticks with the same message, and if so, if it still has the same motivating effect on his players.
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