Atlético Madrid's very strange season


By: Manu Tournoux

The surprise guest of the quarter-finals of this Champions League? The word “surprise” is perhaps a bit strong, especially since we are talking about a club that has been accustomed to the final rounds of European competitions for more than ten years. But it must be said that if we rely on the performances of the Cholo troops in La Liga, it is quite surprising to see them so far in the most prestigious club football competition. This weekend again, the Colchoneros were beaten by FC Barcelona with a heavy score of 3-0; the first defeat of the season for the Rojiblancos at the Wanda Metropolitano.

A defeat against another big name which could have been anecdotal – especially after the qualification against Inter in the middle of the week – but which had already been preceded by poor performances, against Cadiz and Almeria in particular, relegated teams, and an elimination in King's Cup against Athletic. Basques who have also been fourth since this weekend, leaving the Colchoneros in a disappointing fifth position in La Liga, while the Madrilenians had started their season rather well, helped by an excellent Griezmann-Morata duo. Behind the Bilbao team and even behind Girona in the standings, Atlético de Madrid is clearly not in its rightful place. Or at least, which should be his. With potentially disastrous financial consequences in the event of non-participation.

Defense, the big problem

It is even the first time in the Simeone era that at this time of the season, the Rojiblancos are outside the European positions. A question inevitably arises: how to explain this difference in level between the two competitions? There are, undoubtedly, mental considerations to take into account. Already dropped from the title race in La Liga, Atlético has probably given up somewhat, whereas in the Champions League, there is no room for error. But what shocks us the most – especially for a Diego Simeone team – is the weakness of his defense. This does not date from today, since the Colchoneros have been dragging problems behind for several seasons already, even though they have based much of their success on an impregnable defensive base. With players who underperform like Stefan Savic or José Maria Giménez, the Colchoneros are anything but calm at the back.

As soon as an opponent approaches the last meters, there is panic. A slightly less obvious observation in the Champions League, where Simeone's troops generally seem better in place tactically and give the sensation of playing with more intensity. There are also injuries and a busy schedule that forces Simeone to make certain rotations, favoring the Champions League rather than La Liga. A lack of ideas is also to be noted in the offensive sector, where Spanish clubs already know how to neutralize the Cholo's 3-5-2, while certain players like Rodrigo de Paul are going through a phase of obvious poor form. Clearly, if there is not a big change, the only option to play the Champions League next season for the Colchoneros risks being to win it this year…

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