MADRID (REUTERS) - Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone may have played down the significance of Sunday's 2-1 La Liga defeat at Real Sociedad but it has raised further questions about the champions' ability to retain their title.
Under the inspirational Simeone, the Spanish capital's second club claimed their first domestic league crown in 18 years in 2013-14 when they were only beaten four times all season.
Sunday's reverse at the Anoeta, when Atletico had Guilherme Siqueira sent off for a second yellow card five minutes after half-time, was their second of the campaign and left them fourth on 23 points, four behind leaders Real Madrid after 11 games.
Like many of their Spanish rivals have done previously - wealthy Real and Barcelona excluded - Atletico cashed in on last term's success by offloading top scorer Diego Costa and fullback Filipe Luis and new arrivals are taking time to settle.
The likes of Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic, France forward Antoine Griezmann and Italy winger Alessio Cerci all have potential but have yet to shift into top gear.
Meanwhile in defence, Atletico have committed the kind of worrying lapses that were almost completely absent last season when they also reached the final of the Champions League.
Simeone said he was not too concerned about Sunday's defeat in San Sebastian as close rivals Sevilla and Valencia drew at home against Levante and Athletic Bilbao respectively.
Leaders Real have 27 points, Barca are second on 25, Valencia third on 24 and Atletico and Sevilla level on 23, with the Madrid club narrowly ahead on goal difference.
"I am coming away feeling pleased because it is a good day," Simeone told a post-match news conference. "Valencia drew, Sevilla drew and the truth is that the defeat was not so bad," he added.
"It was an entertaining game, very intense, very volatile. We started strongly and then Real (Sociedad) reacted very well.
"They got the equaliser... and then after the sending off they started to play with a lot more intensity in our half until they got the winning goal."
Many of Atletico's players left after the match for the international break and their next La Liga outing is at home to Malaga on Nov 22.
After a wobbly start, when they only won one of their opening six games, Qatar-owned Malaga have won five in a row and are sixth on 21 points.