By 90Min
December 13, 2017

There was something reassuringly familiar about Atletico Madrid on Sunday. It was peak Diego Simeone, if you will, a vintage Los Colchoneros display.

They left Andalusia 1-0 winners over Real Betis, having had just 26% of the ball and completed just over 150 passes. In a way, it was unconvincing, but then Atletico have been doing this for years.

This season, there had been suggestions that they had lost their edge. Only a couple of weeks ago, Barcelona looked out of sight at the top of La Liga, and Atletico were uncharacteristically poor in the Champions League.

Crashing out in the group stages was a disappointment, but they appear to have used it as impetus to improve domestically. Atletico had been trudging along in the league, not losing but quite often not winning either.

Even now they have drawn six of their 15 league games. The wins are coming more readily now, though. Sunday's victory over Betis came a week after a late 2-1 success against Real Sociedad at the new Wanda Metropolitano, and before that they had dismantled Levante 5-0.

It has seen them close the gap on leaders Barcelona to just six points, the only other side in the division yet to taste defeat. Atletico, though they remain unquestionable outsiders, cannot be ruled out of the title race at this stage; Simeone's side have now gone 19 games unbeaten in La Liga, a run that stretches back to April.

That is a new club record, a testament to Atletico's innate ability to grind out results. It is ingrained within the structure of the club, drilled into the players and the results are evident.

Aitor Alcalde/GettyImages

The truth is that Atletico have not convinced this season; they have often appeared sluggish and overly cautious, perhaps at times restricted by the approach that has proved so successful in recent years. Goals have been difficult to come by - until recent weeks - and an influx of draws, unwanted stalemates was the result. 

Atletico have, of course, benefited from Barcelona's unexpected slip-ups, but things have noticeably improved over the past three weeks. Their attacking struggles were highlighted by a goalless draw against Real Madrid last month; it seemed that they might be trying too hard to change, to enact a transition that wasn't really needed.

The Betis victory was a reversion to type - a typical, nasty, unscrupulous and entirely unaesthetic away win, with another clean sheet: That's four shutouts in the previous five La Liga games.

That it came after very different wins against Real Sociedad and Levante will have only made it sweeter for Simeone. The defence is growing ever more impermeable, and, perhaps more importantly, Antoine Griezmann looks back to somewhere near his best.

Aitor Alcalde/GettyImages

So negativity has quickly turned to positivity, and a dead season might well have been reanimated. There is no more Champions League, but that could be an advantage if Atletico do indeed have aspirations of another La Liga title.

They will certainly be underdogs, dark horses, given that Real Madrid are only two points back in fourth and Valencia - highly impressive under Marcelino this season - are a point ahead in second. 

Atletico will need to remain consistent if they are to threaten Barcelona, and they will need Ernesto Valverde's side to suffer a significant dip in form. But while they are undefeated and within touching distance, while they still await the return of Diego Costa, Atletico are in contention.

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