Diego Simeone believes his Atletico Madrid side are taking on a LaLiga title rival when they travel to Sevilla on Sunday.
Atleti are top of the table, above city rivals Real Madrid on goal difference, with Sevilla a point further back in third.
Despite a close-season of upheaval, featuring significant player turnover – including star striker Kevin Gameiro joining Atletico – and Jorge Sampaoli replacing Paris Saint-Germain-bound coach Unai Emery, Simeone thinks Sevilla are capable of lasting the course.
“Sevilla is a team with tools, and looking at the numbers, it is a team that can fight for the title,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“Sevilla and us, with Barcelona and Real Madrid, are on that path of hope. Sevilla always compete very well and are winning titles.
“They have changed many players and their game is changing and developing but they are still very competitive.
“In the Champions League they are doing very well and are strong in LaLiga.”
Former Argentina international Simeone began his career in Spain at Sevilla, spending two years at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan before signing for Atleti in 1994.
“Whenever I face Sevilla it is special,” he said. “I always remember my passage in the team as a kid.
“The people, the atmosphere… I am very grateful for this first stage in Sevilla, which gave me some of the best memories. It is always exciting to visit the Pizjuan.”
A youngster with his star on the rise in Simeone’s current squad is Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco, who celebrated four goals in the space of a week against Granada and Rostov by penning a new long-term contract at the Vicente Calderon on Friday.
“Carrasco is growing and will be all that he wants to be,” Simeone added.
“Speed, intensity, he is scoring goals. The renewal is a deserved reward for his hard work.”