2009-10 was not exactly supposed to be 'their season', at least not realistically, but it was assumed that Atleti would finish in the top four at least and perhaps even go far in the Champions League. But at the moment Atleti are in mid-table with no realistic chance of finishing in the top six and were knocked out of the European Cup in the group stage, having drawn three and lost three of their six matches in Group D.
The start of the season was a total disaster for Atleti, but after Quique Sanchez Flores replaced Abel Resino in October, things started to improve. Diego Forlan started finding the opponents' goal, the defence started to look like a defence and results started coming in the league.
Atleti reached the final of the Copa del Rey and also the final of the Europa League, knocking out Liverpool in the semis. Some might point out that en route to the domestic final, Atleti had to confront - if indeed 'confront' is the right term to use - UD Marbella, Recreativo Huelva, Celta Vigo and Racing Santander and that Atleti have won just twice in Europe all season, but there can be no denial that the Mattress-Makers have been good and at times great in cup competitions.
Atleti couldn't help playing against the Marbellas and the Celta Vigos as it was in the draw; furthermore, the fact that the former Spanish champions are in the final of Europe's second most prestigious club competition having won just two matches exhibits that they have been more adventurous on their travels, scoring more away goals than their opponents, and you cannot fault a side in football going for some adventure, can you?
Nevertheless, the Atleti players have rejuvenated themselves after an abysmal start to the season and now have the chance to win more trophies than the Real Madrid players. Below is a list of five nominees for Atletico Madrid's Player of the Season, in no particular order. I then cast my vote at the bottom before leaving it up to you, the readers, to have your say.
1) David De Gea: In the summer of 2009 Atletico Madrid signed Sergio Asenjo from Real Valladolid for a reported €5 million and appeared to have picked up a bargain. However, by late January the 20-year-old had lost his place in the Atleti line-up to a certain David De Gea, thanks mainly to some costly errors. De Gea is only 19 but has proven to be very reliable between the sticks for the Madrid side.
The Rojiblancos have a woeful defence but on multiple occasions the Atletico Madrid youth academy graduate has saved his side by pulling off several good saves. However, De Gea is subject to an occasional bad game, like the one he had against Real Madrid in late March, but overall he has been very good, as he was against Valencia in both the legs of the Europa League quarter-final in which he made save after save to keep los Che at bay.
2) Diego Forlan: Forlan started the season slowly, failing to find his feet and the oppositions' goal under Abel Resino. But the arrival of Quique Sanchez Flores rejuvenated the 30-year-old Uruguayan international striker. At the moment, Forlan has 17 goals and five assists in the league.
One of the former Manchester United striker's better performances in the Spanish Primera Division was against Valencia at the Vicente Calderon in February, when he scored twice and made one assist in their 4-1 win. Forlan failed to net a single goal in the Champions League but he found the target both at home and away against Liverpool in the Europa League semi-finals, his 102nd minute strike at Anfield sealing Atleti's place in the final in Hamburg.
3) Jose Antonio Reyes: If you go by the stats, then two goals and five assists in 29 league appearances wouldn't necessarily make Jose Antonio Reyes any better than he has been in previous years but this campaign the former Sevilla winger has been a renaissance man. Reyes has struggled with injuries and also reportedly clashed with Resino earlier in the campaign, but under Sanchez Flores the 26-year-old has been excellent.
Playing on the wings in an Atleti side that lacks a distinct mature world class ball-playing attacking midfielder, Reyes has been Atleti's creator-in-chief. The former Real Madrid player was excellent against Liverpool in the semi-final of the Europa League, was arguably the most creative player on the pitch against Valencia at the Calderon in the league in February and scored a goal against Real Madrid in the Madrid derby at the Bernabeu.
4) Sergio Aguero: Like his strike partner Forlan, Sergio Aguero didn't have the best of starts this campaign, but as the season progressed the Argentine international started to find his way through the woods. 12 goals and four assists in 24 league starts have not been exactly sensational and Aguero has been under par in comparison to his high standards, but the 21-year-old remains one of Atleti's few gems.
Aguero's best performance in Europe this campaign was against Chelsea in the Champions League at the Calderon when he came on an a substitute and scored twice, the second from a scintillating free-kick. Aguero also netted a brace against Sporting Lisbon away from home in the Europa League and his two goals helped turn around a 3-0 deficit against Recreativo Huelva from the first leg in a Copa del Rey tie.
5) Paulo Assuncao: The Brazilian midfielder has been one of the more consistent players for Atletico since signing for the Spanish side in 2008. 2009-10 has been quite good to the 30-year-old Brazilian as he has looked solid in shoring up the midfield.
True, at times, like the rest of the Atletico side, the former Porto midfielder has appeared mediocre, but in a side where there is not a single world class defender in the first team, Assuncao has marvellously protected the backline, played with his heart on his sleeves, worked his socks off and has been one of the best five players for them.
My Vote: Jose Antonio Reyes
Reyes' professional nadir came in the summer of 2008 when he was shipped to Benfica on loan for a season, but since his return to the Calderon last summer and his reunion with former Benfica coach Quique Sanchez Flores, the Spanish international has been superb.
Reyes has always been highly rated by Spanish football observers and this campaign the 26-year-old has shown just how good he can be. Playing on the wings, he has terrorised defences in Spain and in Europe alike and without him and his intelligence, vision and useful crosses, Atletico wouldn't have reached the finals of two cup competitions.
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