MADRID, Spain -- If familiarity breeds contempt, then nobody told Atletico Madrid. The Estadio Vicente Calderon saw it all and then some last season, and it bounced and boiled again as their side tore apart Olympiakos to secure safe passage to the last 16 of the Champions League, the competition which they came within a heartbeat of winning last May in Lisbon.
While performances since the start of the season have shown the spirit instilled by Diego Simeone is alive and well in a considerably tweaked squad, then the emphatic results of the last five days (taking in this recital and Saturday's impressive win over Malaga) suggest they have nurtured and maybe even developed the brutal side of their character. This was certainly the way the evidence pointed on another heady night at this noisy arena.
Atleti were relentless, enterprising and pitiless to the extent of continuing to steamroll the visitors even after they were well beaten. Unlike another recent shooting star of the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund, this side built on counterattack showed it has little problem taking the game to opponents.
They were, admittedly, aided and abetted by a limp challenge from the perennial Greek champions. Olympiakos arrived in fair fettle, having pushed Juventus every step of the way in Turin last time out. They also beat Atleti in an anarchic group opener, thus coveting reasonable hopes of progression. If their Champions League flame is not quite extinguished, then it is flickering nervously. Michel and his men must cling to the hope that Simeone and his merry band will do them the sort of favour that was never on offer here when they visit Juve on the group's closing night.
The early feeling was that Olympiakos goalkeeper Roberto -- a product of the Atletico academy who referred to the Calderon post-match as "my home" -- might be about to have one of his Champions League superhero nights. His old club Benfica and Juventus were recent victims of his temporary metamorphosis into a goalkeeping demigod under the lights. Instead, he produced the sort of blunder early on that blighted his time in Lisbon, with terrible miscontrol in front of the Fondo Sur gifting Juanfran possession.
The effervescent right-back seized on it, supplying Raul Garcia with the chance to give the locals the lead inside 10 minutes. Roberto did partly redeem himself later with a sharp parry from a Cristian Ansaldi piledriver, but then again shot-stopping has never really been his problem during an unpredictable career trajectory. He may have prevented his teammates from being buried under a Rojiblanco avalanche, but it was cold comfort on an increasingly frosty night in the capital.
Garcia, meanwhile, needs little encouragement to be a menace. His tirelessness should not detract from his game sense. As box-to-box midfielders go, he doesn't have the craft of a Cesc Fabregas, but he does have an uncanny ability to arrive late into the penalty box undetected, a la David Platt. He came close to a second with a flying volley, after again finding space, before Mario Mandzukic benefitted from more sleepy defending from the visitors to extend the lead with some comfort before the break.
That pause did little to change the course of events, even if Tiago -- more than ever, Simeone's on-field director of operations -- was withdrawn after complaining to his coach of pain in a thigh muscle. The losses of Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Felipe Luis must be recognised as significant ones, but resources are hardly thin on the ground. Mario Suarez replaced Portugal midfielder Tiago, and stepped into the rhythm of the match without missing a beat.
In the game's closing quarter, Simeone was able to introduce the energetic Antoine Griezmann to further pummel a dispirited rearguard. The closest the visitors got to relief was when the Frenchman's flying header (inevitably, from another set piece) was ruled out for offside just before full-time.
Olympiakos simply didn't know which way to turn. Young left-back Arthur Masuaku has been one of the revelations of the competition so far, but he was stretched all over the place by Juanfran and Arda Turan, working in tandem. Pajtim Kasami, having presumably been introduced at the interval by Michel to provide a little more attacking threat, spent much of his time back in his own half covering an exposed Omar Elabdellaoui on the right side of defence.
Having made a considerable impression on Mandzukic's cheekbone in the pair's previous meeting in Piraeus, the former Fulham man watched the Croatia striker have the last laugh here, completing his hat-trick with a pair of emphatic headers in the space of three second-half minutes.
As a Real Madrid player, Michel had won 15 out of 25 meetings over a dozen years of confrontations with their local rivals. The boot was firmly on the other foot here. While he anxiously hugged the touchline of his technical area throughout, his opposite number Simeone was relatively passive. Used to acting as the lightning conductor that makes a raucous stadium crackle, the Argentine was safe leaving his hungry team to simply get on with it.
So Atleti, again, are flying under the Champions League radar, showcasing all the organisation and brio with which the continent became familiar last season. The only question over their future in this competition is whether they can still -- second time around -- justify the title of underdogs. They clearly still feel that Europe is an itch worth scratching.
I really believe we can win this time tbh. *fingers crossed*