Atletico Madrid finished this season with 88 points, the second-highest La Liga points total in the club’s history. It is a special achievement, but the fact that Atletico finished third behind Barcelona and Real Madrid left some fans and players disappointed. That says it all. The fact that a third place achievement is no longer cause for celebration says so much about how far Atletico have come in recent years.
When Diego Simeone took over at the club in December 2011, qualifying for the Champions League was the pinnacle. If Atletico could sneak into fourth place then a season could be considered a success. Now, however, fourth place would be a disappointment, while only a top two finish is considered an overachievement. Atletico are in a sort of no man’s land where they cannot compete financially with Barcelona or Real Madrid, but where they are so far ahead of every other club in La Liga. By finishing third, they are the only team in the whole division to finish this season exactly where their wage budget predicted they would. It is indisputable that Atletico are the third best team in La Liga, which is why this season has been par for the course.
“The stated objective of the club is to finish third,” Simeone told the Press in March after a 2-1 defeat away at Sporting Gijon. He will, therefore, be pleased to have met his objective, while he can also be pleased that Atletico finished third so convincingly, 24 points ahead of fourth-place Villarreal.
Of course, the fact that Atletico finished so close behind Barcelona and Real Madrid is impressive. They were third, but they were a close third and, until last weekend, Atletico were second and very much in the title race. A shock 2-1 loss away at Levante, however, cost them the chance to compete for the trophy on the final day and allowed city rivals Real Madrid to leapfrog them in the table.
Atletico’s home form was never an issue, having won dropped just nine out of 57 points at the Calderon this campaign. Away from their boisterous home support, though, they had always looked vulnerable and they dropped almost double as many points on their travels, leaving 17 of 57 points on the road. Defeats away at Barcelona and Villarreal were understandable, but losses at Malaga, Gijon and Levante, as well as throwing away a lead to draw at Deportivo, showed that Atletico are prone to a slip up too many to repeat their 2013-14 feat of winning the League.
Overall, this has been a memorable season. It was the third season in a row in which Real Madrid have not defeated Atletico in the League, while Atletico’s season has also been marked by further improvement in defence as they conceded just 18 goals, a joint League record. There is also, of course, the small matter of the Champions League final which they qualified for by defeating European giants Bayern Munich and Barcelona. If they can win that, then this will go down as one of the best seasons in the club’s history.