Analysing Atletico Madrid's mid-season problems
Atlético Madrid are in a colossal mess. They are placed fourth in the league table with 39 points. The title race is lost for Atlético until and unless a miracle takes place. Real Sociedad, Sevilla, and Valencia will provide stiff competition to them for the Champions League spot. Losing the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid and getting knocked out of the Copa del Rey means they wouldn't get their hands on a domestic silverware this season. They face defending champions, Liverpool in the Champions League Round of 16. The odds of beating the Merseyside club and progressing to the quarter-finals are very much against Atlético.
When the club sold Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona and shelled out £113m for the 2019 Golden Boy winner, João Félix, many were skeptical about the Portuguese's big-money move at a tender age of 20. The former Benfica man showed signs of promise in the pre-season and opening weeks of the season. However, the return of a mere two goals in La Liga is extremely unsatisfying. But then all blame cannot be put onto the Portuguese's shoulders. Diego Simeone's defensive and pragmatic approach also hinders the players to run forward. With Griezmann, they had someone who could link the midfield and attack and progress the ball forward. Felix doesn't follow suit.
Former Real Madrid player Rafael van der Vaart agrees.
"João Felix is a fine player, but he's at the wrong club. When they signed the Portuguese striker, I felt that [Diego] Simeone would try and embark on a different brand of playing, but that's far from the case. Félix, I feel, is at the wrong club and working under the wrong coach."
Besides, Atlético's injury list is a glaring problem for Simeone. Diego Costa has missed 16 games since picking up an injury in November last year. He suffered a herniated disc injury and the club confirmed he needed neurosurgery treatment. Thomas Lemar was sidelined due to a hamstring injury but was recently seen back in training after missing eight games. January was even more brutal for the Rojiblancos. The players kept on picking up minor niggles which led to an alarming situation. Koke was the first in the queue. Defenders Jose Gimenez (muscle), Kieran Trippier (muscle) and Santiago Arias (groin) joined the list. The most recent names to grace this list is Félix and Alvaro Morata who are not expected to be back for the Liverpool game.
As aforementioned, Atleti lack potent strikers in front of the goal. Costa, however, is expected to be back in the next couple of days, except whom, the Wanda Metropolitano does not harbour any guaranteed goal-scorer. The lack of transfers in January gave them a massive blow too. The failure to land Edinson Cavani and settling with Yannick Carasco speaks volumes of their situation right now. Simeone is out of depth with the selection of players. Departures of Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez and Filipe Luis in the defensive set-up hurt them the most. Los Colchoneros no longer possess a threat to their opposition's forward line. Rodri's ability to recycle possession and keep the ball moving is absent and summer signing Marcos Llorente is quite far away from solving that problem.
Atlético's brand image is hurt. Since their league title win in 2014, the club does not show any signs of progressions. In Europe's marquee club competition, the Champions League, the club makes sure to go forward consistently but lacks the quality to win the competition (twice losing to Real Madrid in the final this decade). All in all, Atlético got it wrong with their player turnover and their replacements. It is hard to decode the problems faced by new faces to adapt to Simeone's system. The majority of the problems arise from El Cholo's roots in playing football. Modern players find it hard to evolve into complicated systems. Maybe its time for Simeone to give himself a break and restart.
Published 13 Feb 2020, 17:53 IST