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Title challenge on agenda for Villa and Atlético

Published: Friday 16 August 2013, 8.25CET
Liga champions FC Barcelona and title pretenders Real Madrid CF will be wary of the growing threat posed by a Club Atlético de Madrid side strengthened by David Villa's arrival.
by Paul Bryan
from Madrid
Title challenge on agenda for Villa and Atlético
David Villa signed for Atlético from Barcelona in July ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Friday 16 August 2013, 8.25CET

Title challenge on agenda for Villa and Atlético

Liga champions FC Barcelona and title pretenders Real Madrid CF will be wary of the growing threat posed by a Club Atlético de Madrid side strengthened by David Villa's arrival.

With the 83rd Liga season imminent, Club Atlético de Madrid new boy David Villa says his side are targeting a strong start as they seek to challenge usual suspects FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF.

In a memorable 2012/13 campaign for the club from the banks of the river Manzanares, Atlético lifted the UEFA Super Cup and Copa del Rey while their third-place Liga finish earned qualification for the upcoming UEFA Champions League group stage. Despite star striker Falcao's departure for AS Monaco FC, the arrival of the Spanish national team's all-time leading scorer as his replacement keeps expectation levels high among Rojiblancos fans.

"We know we have tough games in prospect but we are fully focused on starting in the strongest way possible," said Villa ahead of Atlético's Liga opener at Sevilla FC on Sunday. "We have put in a lot of pre-season work and after all this training I feel I am getting a clearer idea of the set-up here. I am delighted it has been going well."

Villa's ten Spanish top-flight campaigns with Real Zaragoza, Valencia CF and Barcelona have yielded 173 goals in 316 appearances, as well as two Liga titles for the 31-year-old. A spectacular right-foot strike from distance registered on his Atlético debut against UD Las Palmas showed that 'El Guaje' (The Kid) may well prove he still ranks among the world's best forwards since leaving Barça last month.

"For a striker, the most important thing is to score goals," said the UEFA EURO 2008 and 2010 FIFA World Cup winner. "Little by little I feel more connected to a team that has a clear system of play in place. I feel physically fine and am calm. With a strong work ethic, a constant desire to improve, and the team-mates I have here, I am sure the goals are going to come."

The last time Atlético were champions, current coach Diego Simeone was part of a double-winning team that broke an 11-year Madrid and Barça duopoly. With last season's top two dominating Liga proceedings for the past nine years, and threatening the same again, Simeone is eager to produce a side to equal Atlético's 1995/96 heroes.

"Last term we had statistics similar to those of a championship-winning team," said the 43-year-old Argentine, who has led Atlético to UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and Copa del Rey success since his appointment in December 2011. "Now the big moment is arriving and we are entering a new campaign with the hope and expectation that a side like Atlético should feel. We're obviously starting from scratch and will be going game by game, while continuing to look for the consistency we have become known for."

Last updated: 05/09/13 7.15CET

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