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Simeone Downplays Atleti Title Challenge

DIEGO-SIMEONEDiego Simeone has already conceded that Atletico Madrid may have fallen too far behind Barcelona and Real Madrid to retain their Spanish title. Despite emerging from the shadows of La Liga’s big two to claim their first title for 18 years last season, the Atleti coach believes that a summer of aggressive spending by those sides will make it extremely tough to defend their crown.

“I don’t like lying to people, and one thing is clear: we cannot compete with Real and Barcelona,” Simeone told La Gazzetto Dello Sport. “Our rivals are Sevilla, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, and the target is third place.

“This is a new team. Atletico are the champions, but the players are not the same. We are in a different league to Barça and Real.”

His comments come after the loss of talismanic top scorer Diego Costa and experienced left-back Filipe Luis to Chelsea. Thibaut Courtois has also returned to Stamford Bridge having spent three years on loan at the Vicente Calderon.

Mario Mandzukic, Guilherme Siqueira and Jan Oblak were signed to replace them, while French international Antoine Griezmann arrived for £24m.

Atletico start their title defence away to Rayo Vallecano on Monday night, just three days after the conclusion of their Spanish Super Cup tie with bitter rivals Real, who host newly-promoted Cordoba on the same evening.

Carlo Ancelotti is looking to add to an already impressive trophy haul, having picked up the Copa del Rey and the club’s elusive tenth UEFA Champions League triumph during his first season in the Spanish capital. FIFA World Cup™ winner Toni Kroos and Colombia star James Rodriguez supplement an outrageously talented forward line including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Angel di Maria and Karim Benzema.

Barcelona responded to a disappointing season, which culminated in Atletico Madrid beating them to top spot at Camp Nou courtesy of a 1-1 draw, by bringing in former player Luis Enrique to take over from Gerardo Martino at the reins. The Catalan side have been busy strengthening their squad, with Luis Suarez becoming their new record signing and the third most expensive footballer in history after clinching a £75m switch from Liverpool. Barcelona get underway at home to Elche on Sunday.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Eibar will make their La Liga debut when they take on fellow Basque side Real Sociedad, Levante face Villarreal, and Getafe travel to Celta Vigo.

The new season officially opens on Saturday with Champions League contenders Sevilla and Valencia facing off in the day’s stand-out fixture, while Malaga host Athletic Bilbao, Granada meet Deportivo, and Espanyol travel to Almeria.