By Greg Lea.

In 2013/2014, Atletico de Madrid achieved one of the most astonishing feats of recent times by winning La Liga ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid despite various financial and structural disadvantages. Two seasons on and many people are backing them to repeat the accomplishment.

With the winter break approaching, Diego Simeone's side have the chance to reach the summit of the standings before Christmas; currently in second place and level on points with Barcelona who are in Japan competing in the Club World Cup Atletico will move three clear at the top with victory over Malaga on Sunday night. It is a fantastic opportunity for the capital club, who will not mind the fact they have gone somewhat under the radar so far this campaign.

Atletico's extraordinary title success two years ago was built on a collective that amounted to more than the sum of its individual parts. Only 26 goals were conceded in 38 games, with the Colchoneros' aggression, intensity and organisation making them an extremely difficult side to play against. They found the back of the net from set-pieces an incredible 24 times, and were lethal and potent on the counter-attack.

Even the most successful outfits need to evolve, however, and Simeone attempted to make tweaks the following year. A third-place finish was highly respectable, but Atletico never really troubled eventual champions Barcelona.

There has been a sense of Atletico going back to their roots this term. Perhaps that was not always the plan summer arrivals Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Oliver Torres (who was on loan at Porto last season) and Luciano Vietto are not typical Atleti players, and Simeone had mentioned that he was keen to use a 4-3-3 formation as well as his usual 4-4-2 but many facets of the style and approach that won them the league in 2014 have returned.

"I invite those who still don't know what Atletico Madrid is to look again at work, pressure, playing on the counter-attack, being defensively strong. Those who want to change that are going against what Atletico have always been," Simeone said last month.

"There are lots of ways of playing. Some choose to have a lot of the ball, others choose to play well on the break. Historically, this is what Atletico is. Don't confuse the fans. This is Atletico: effort, counter-attacks, competitiveness. That's the way success has always come and we'll continue that way, no matter what they say."

Nine clean sheets have been recorded in 15 matches, with only seven goals conceded. Usually led by the superb Antoine Griezmann, Atletico remain rapid on the counter.

Players such as Diego Costa, Joao Miranda and Arda Turan have departed, but many of the key personnel from two years ago are still plying their trade at the Vicente Calderon.

Gabi and Tiago remained the first-choice central midfielders before the latter broke his leg against Espanyol two weeks ago. Koke is as essential as ever, Juanfran has retained the right-back spot, Diego Godin is the perfect symbol of the team and Filipe Luis has returned after a year at Chelsea.

More importantly, the idea of play has remained constant even though the individuals tasked with carrying it out have not. There is still an emphasis on quick transitions going forward and compactness between the lines defensively. Set-pieces are still seen as an important attacking weapon, and control of space is seen as superior to control of the ball.

Barcelona are the favourites to land a second successive league championship this term, but it could be Atletico Madrid rather than city rivals Real who push them closest. With Simeone's side likely to be top of the table at Christmas, they should certainly not be written off.