Can Atletico Madrid prove their mettle against Barcelona?

Diego Simeone's side have a chance to prove their title credentials when they take on Tito Vilanova's team at Camp Nou...

With match day 16 of La Liga around the corner, Atletico Madrid surely are in a position few would have expected them to be in at the start of the season. Sitting comfortably in second place behind leaders Barcelona, with a huge 5 point cushion over arch rivals Real Madrid. Fans and players have both set high expectations for this season and considering the performances they have put in, one shouldn't be surprised, that they are challenging for the league title and if they do manage to do the unbelievable, Atletico will be the first team to snatch the title from the big boys of Real Madrid and Barcelona for the first time since the 2003-2004 season when Valencia were crowned champions under Rafa Benitez.

With a trip to Camp Nou this weekend, this will be a chance for the Rojiblancos to redeem themselves, after slumping to a defeat against cross-town rivals Real Madrid. Since the derby, Falcao has once again proved his credentials as one of the best players in the world, alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, by scoring five in a league game against Deportivo La Coruna last weekend.

As it happened, both the goals scored by Real Madrid in the derby were mistakes by Atletico players. Arda Turan’s handball about 30 yards from goal seemed harmless until Ronaldo reminded us of his free-kick taking abilities. The second goal, created by Ronaldo, saw the ball being headed straight to him by Atletico defender Joao Miranda and the Portuguese capitalized by slipping in Mesut Ozil for the goal. Falcao on the other hand had a quiet evening, as he was kept in check by Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Only if those errors could be avoided, what could have been!

Falcao will be the key for Atletico Madrid

As far as the game against Barcelona is concerned, to underline their title credentials, Atletico do need to get a result simply because of the lost opportunity against Real. With the game being played at the Camp Nou, a result here will definitely cement Atletico’s place among the title contenders and they will stand just three points adrift of Barcelona, covering which is a task in itself as they are nowhere near dropping points this season.

Atletico have been playing an attacking brand of football, developing a defenive ethos in the process with manager Diego Simeone's fitting tactics of building around Falcao. As soon as the ball is intercepted or won back in the midfield, Falcao's pace and dribbling are used to good affect. This is infact shown by the 35 goals they have managed to score in the La Liga this season, which is just 2 behind a much expensively assembled Real Madrid side. Focussing less on possession football, Atletico have this season done more damage without it. The penetrating football has been used well, with Arda Turan pulling the strings to good use in support to Falcao.

Simeone has managed to extract the best out of a pretty talented squad at his disposal. With tactically sound players in the form of Arda Turan, captain Gabi and Christian Rodriguez led by Radamel Falcao in attack, the team is potent enough for rivals to worry. The Atletico manager probably only needs to worry about is how to keep the confidence of his players high enough to believe that they can win against teams like Barcelona, in their own backyard. The quality is there for everyone to see and if blended well with the belief, we could be looking at potential champions of the league.

Falcao looks set to depart the at the end of the season with suitors queuing up (Real Madrid look to be one of them), and damaging Real’s status by competing for the title will be the perfect departing gift the Colombian could give to his club.

Atletico is the club that has made him share the field with some of the best players in Europe by giving him a platform to perform on a bigger stage than at Porto. And so, a parting gift even in the form of a losing battle of the title will be apt, where as finishing above Real Madrid (as it stands today) will be accepted delightedly by most.

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