Carlo Ancelotti claims he thought only Barcelona and Real Madrid were capable of winning La Liga as his side prepare to visit Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Simeone's men have fallen off the pace a little in recent weeks after a
relative slump in form, but they remain only three points off the
summit heading into this weekend.
Los Blancos moved
a victory clear at the top of the table last week as both Atletico and
Barca suffered surprise defeats, but Ancelotti was nonetheless quick to
lavish praise on their local rivals for the fight they have shown so far
"It's a very interesting league campaign, it's very exciting," he told Sportmasta. "There are three brave, strong sides battling for the title.
a surprise because I thought that it would be between Barcelona and
Madrid but Atletico are doing a fantastic job. It's very surprising to
see that at this level that being on 60 points is not enough to be top
of the table.
"They could perfectly play in any league. They know
what their shortcomings are and they exploit their qualities: punishing
their opponents on the counterattack and from set pieces.
"They are an efficient team. Atletico are just like Simeone was when he was a player: they give their all and play as a unit."
Madrid made a mockery of Atletico in the Copa del Rey semi-finals
earlier this month, beating them 5-0 on aggregate to avenge their defeat
in cup final to their rivals last season and a 1-0 loss at the Santiago
Bernabeu in September.
"Both of those games gave us confidence because in the league derby we had problems against them," Ancelotti added.
Real Madrid's visit to Atletico kicks off at 17:00CET on Sunday.