Can Sevilla or Valencia do an Atletico and challenge Barcelona and Madrid?

Just two points separate the top five teams in La Liga after 10 rounds of action but can the season's surprise packages so far really crash the title party come May?
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By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Atletico Madrid showed in 2013-14 that it is not impossible to break Spain's duopoly as they beat Barcelona and Real Madrid to the title and, this time around, there are two new pretenders to the throne in Valencia and Sevilla.

After 10 matches, Valencia are in second place with 23 points, just one behind leaders Madrid. Sevilla, meanwhile, have just a point less (22) and are in fifth position, level with Barcelona - so can they sustain that form and mount a real challenge in La Liga?

When they won the title last season, Atletico became the first team from outside the traditional big two to do so since Valencia in 2003-04. Sevilla, meanwhile, had been the last to threaten prior to Atleti's title triumph as they came close but eventually finished third - five points behind both Barca and champions Real - in 2006-07.

Valencia placed third three times in a row under Unai Emery between 2010 and 2012 but ended up 28, 25 and 39 points, respectively, behind the winners in those campaigns. After finishing fifth and eighth in the last two seasons, they are now back competing at the top following a takeover, significant summer investment and renewed hope in the project led by new owner Peter Lim.

Valencia have won all of their five home games in La Liga this season, beating champions Atletico 3-1 at Mestalla last month. Nuno's side have yet to face Barcelona or Madrid, however.

"Our objectives won't change," coach Nuno said after their win over Villarreal. "We want to be in the Champions League at the end of the season and that's what we're thinking about day to day."

Sevilla, meanwhile, could have gone top of the Primera Division with a victory at Athletic Bilbao last time out but Emery's side lost 1-0 at San Mames. Although impressive in victories over smaller sides such as Deportivo La Coruna and Cordoba, Sevilla struggled to beat Villarreal at home recently, were held by Valencia on the opening day of the season and lost 4-0 at Atletico in late September.

The Andalusian side lifted the Europa League trophy last season after beating Benfica in the final but Emery said in September: "We would be making a mistake if we thought we had a chance of winning the title and doing what Atletico did last season."

Diego Simeone's discourse was similar as Atleti challenged last term. That meant less pressure for his players and allowed them to focus on the job at hand without raising expectations unnecessarily. Atleti, however, had looked like challenging for much of the previous season too before falling away in the second half of that campaign.

"Our objective is third place and to compete in the Champions League," Simeone said this week, conscious of how hard it is to beat both Barca and Madrid to the title two years in a row.

The last time that any team (other than Barca or Madrid) won consecutive titles was Athletic in 1983 and 1984, while the big two between them have only missed out on five championships since then as Atletico won it in 1995-96, Deportivo in 1999-2000, Valencia in 2001-02 and 2003-04, and Atleti again last season.

Madrid look strong after back-to-back defeats to Atleti and Real Sociedad earlier in La Liga, while Barca now need to recover from losing the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu and then being beaten at home by Celta Vigo.

Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti has a better record in the cup competitions traditionally and his Blaugrana counterpart, Luis Enrique, is still finding his feet after taking over at the Catalan club in the summer so there is hope for Atleti, twice winners against their rivals already this term and growing in confidence with each passing week following a summer of upheaval.

For Valencia and Sevilla, however, it is still too soon. Both teams currently lack sufficient strength in depth to compete over an entire campaign and will look to build on this season's success with a view to following in the footsteps of Simeone's side next term.

But if they can emulate Atleti and compete with the top three at the second time of asking in 2015-16, La Liga would be all the better for it.

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