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50-50 Challenge: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

El Clasico 1 day ago
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Cobos: Neymar stronger in 2014-15

Barcelona 1 day ago
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Sep 3, 2014

Atleti's strong La Liga start and fabulous transfer season finish

Overall, it has been a good week for the Vicente Calderon faithful. After seeing their local rivals, and next opponent, Real Madrid capitulate from 2-0 up to lose 4-2 away at Real Sociedad, three players were called up to represent Spain. Add to this the deadline day capture of one of Europe's most highly-rated wingers in Alessio Cerci, and there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Firstly, Diego Simeone will be licking his lips at the defending he witnessed from los Blancos' back line at set pieces, or more correctly at the prospect of Koke and Gabi whipping in pinpoint crosses that are bound to cause havoc.

Atleti took advantage of lax marking in the first leg of the Super Cup to secure a 1-1 draw at the death. Simeone, who celebrated his century of league games with the La Liga champions against Eibar (albeit from the stands after he was banned for eight games), will no doubt be planning an onslaught of crosses to take advantage of his opponent's obvious blind spot.

One man who will be central to these plans is Raul Garcia.

The burly midfielder, who was once thought of as merely a battering ram, has improved beyond all recognition over the past 18 months, culminating in a first call-up to the Spain squad by Vicente del Bosque this week. He has also been awarded former teammate David Villa's No. 7 shirt, which indicates that Del Bosque sees him as an integral part of his plans for the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Koke, long seen as the natural heir to Xavi Hernandez, has been given the Barcelona man's No. 8, while Juanfran will battle it out with Madrid's Dani Carvajal to be the first-choice right-back.

Atleti's captain, Gabi, scored three goals and had 10 assists in his team's league-winning campaign last season.

One thing that does continue to grate Atletico Madrid fans, however, is the continued absence of Gabi.

Los Rojiblancos' captain registered three goals -- including a 35-yard piledriver against Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon -- and racked up 10 assists in all competitions as he led his side to domestic glory last season.

Indeed it was his corner that resulted in the ensuing confusion that saw Diego Godin score the goal that brought Atleti so close to winning the Champions League. The fact that he is now the wrong side of 30 perhaps means his time has passed, but his performances over the past 12 months have warranted more recognition, especially following such a disastrous campaign in Brazil.

Likewise, Miguel Angel Moya can feel hard done by. Before his move to Atletico, the goalkeeper was not too well known outside of Spanish football circles, but he is one of the main reasons Getafe remained in La Liga last season.

He has done so well since coming in at the start of the summer that he is keeping 16 million-euro arrival Jan Oblak out of the first-team frame, but that still is not enough for Del Bosque, who has persisted with Iker Casillas despite his World Cup performance. Moya might not necessarily be first-choice material at the moment (however, given Casillas remains No. 1, there is no reason he should not be), but he is certainly more than equal to substitute goalkeepers David De Gea and Kiko Casilla, and if his early-season performances are anything to go by, it would be of little surprise were Moya to get a call-up at some point this campaign.

Anyway, back to club matters. After a hectic beginning to the window and a bit of a lull, it was a busy deadline day at the Calderon, with both incomings and outgoings.

Emiliano Insua was loaned to Rayo Vallecano while Toby Alderweireld went to Southampton, also on a temporary basis. The loss of the Argentine full-back will not mean too many tears are shed, while Alderweireld was keen to play regularly -- something he would not have done in Madrid given the form of Godin, Joao Miranda and Juanfran at the back, in addition to the emergence of Jose Gimenez at the World Cup.

- Atleti confirm signing of Cerci from Torino
- Transfer news: Atletico Madrid defender Toby Alderweireld
- Walker: Atleti win sans Simeone

On the arrivals front, Alessio Cerci came in from Torino for 16 million euros.

The Italy international was highly sought-after throughout Europe, with Arsenal also believed to have made an offer for the player, who chose to go to the Spanish capital. In their Super Cup and opening league fixtures, Los Colchoneros have been accused of lacking a certain spark in attack, and despite Mario Mandzukic's qualities, have missed the pace and energy of Diego Costa up top.

The arrival of Cerci directly addresses this. The 27-year-old is a bag of tricks who usually operates from the right; however, he is capable of playing in a number of positions across the front line, and Simeone will appreciate the versatility and competition that the Italian brings to the squad.

It is also believed that a deal for Xherdan Shaqiri was on the cards during deadline day, but fell through for a number of reasons. The Spanish press insists that the club remain keen, and say that provided a buyer can be found for Cebolla Rodriguez in January, Simeone will go back in for the Switzerland star.

The club have done all they can to rebuild after losing a key core of players, and only time will tell if they have replaced the departed sufficiently. For now though, all attention will be on making sure the internationals return in good health as the Madrid derby looms.

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