Published On: Wed, Dec 6th, 2017

Atletico's time not yet up despite Champions League elimination

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It’s been an odd season for Atletico Madrid. Unbeaten in La Liga and now eliminated from the Champions League, the Spanish side has flipped-flopped between good and bad.

Manager Diego Simeone found it “difficult to explain” the paradox after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea – a match Atletico had to win to give itself a chance of reaching the knockout phase. Somehow, his players were able to take four points away from eventual Group C winner Roma, but only two from bottom-feeder Qarabag.

In the end, Atletico was simply too wasteful to advance, producing a horrific shot conversion rate of 4.7 percent in Europe. Simeone’s men had their biggest problems against newcomer Qarabag, scoring just once from 46 shots against the Azerbaijani outfit. A team that depends so much on one-goal victories cannot afford to be that profligate.

It’s clear Atletico’s in a state of flux. Amid claims that Antoine Griezmann may have already checked out, the club has struggled to score on a regular basis. Griezmann’s been asked to play as a traditional No. 9, even though that’s not what he is; as one of the best two-way forwards in world football, his strength is his mobility, not his static poaching ability.

But at the moment, there’s little reprieve. With Fernando Torres nearing the end of his career, Kevin Gameiro out of favour, and both Diego Costa and Vitolo barred from competing until the club’s transfer ban expires, a changing of the guard is waiting to happen.

It’s not so much the end of an era, but instead more of a transition from one to another. By signing a contract extension until 2020, Simeone dispelled any lingering doubts that he no longer has anything to give Atletico. He’s already handed starts to 21-year-old Lucas Hernandez, 22-year-old Angel Correa, and 24-year-old Thomas Partey, while slowly removing stalwarts Gabi, Juanfran, and Diego Godin from the forefront.


(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

In a system that demands high intensity and constant pressing, it’s difficult to rely on the same players year after year. And many of Simeone’s favourites are now in their 30s.

The move to the new Wanda Metropolitano also raised expectations. Under the brighter lights, perhaps there’s a burden to do more than just eke out results. Yet, that’s what Atletico has done so well under Simeone – pragmatic football that involves winning second balls, dispossessing opponents, and defending in lines of four made the manager’s teams successful. In a bigger stadium, however, Atletico’s brand of football may no longer be good enough.

What cannot be lost is that this team hasn’t given up. The odds were against Atletico as it travelled to London this week, yet the club took the initiative and controlled the play in a positive away performance.

“We looked for it until the end,” Simeone said, courtesy of ESPN FC’s Dermot Corrigan. “I am proud of the team. We worked hard, were competitive. We just tried to do what we could do in the game. … For sure it was a step forward for the team.”

And it really isn’t all that bad. Atletico is only six points behind the La Liga leader, has conceded the fewest goals of any team across the top-five European leagues, and now enters the Europa League as one of the favourites to win it all.



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