Despite an improvement in form since the turn of the new year, Atlético Madrid’s problem should be a cause for concern for a side with hopes of challenging on multiple fronts this season.
Real Madrid have been named ‘winter champions’ in the Spanish top-flight with Sevilla and Barcelona giving chase. This has left Atlético Madrid to stumble along in fourth place after a less-than-convincing first half of the league season.
Strikers Out Of Form
Los Rojiblancos’ inconsistent form coincided with Antoine Griezmann’s goal drought. The French Ballon d’Or nominee failed to score in nine matches. Griezmann is not the only striker struggling for form. Worse still is Fernando Torres, who has not scored since September 17. Although Angel Correa has been in fine form in the Copa del Rey, he has struggled for consistency in the league.
Kevin Gameiro, the 30 million euro signing was an alternative to Chelsea man Diego Costa. Although he hasn’t given the squad the intended boost or stability at the seemingly cursed striker position. Simeone has proved cold-blooded in moving strikers on after not impressing in their first seasons. Even though Gameiro may get a second-season boost, he’s not young. Should such a boost not come, it would be very difficult for Atleti to recoup their investment in the Frenchman.
To put their striking woes into perspective, midfielder Yannick Carrasco is the side’s second-highest goal scorer to date. And by no means is he prolific in the final third. Atletico are often relying on the heroics of Saul and Nicolas Gaitan to keep them in the hunt for a guaranteed Champions League qualification spot.
Inconsistent Defensive Combination
Atleti’s defense is more vulnerable than ever before in the Simeone era, and the biggest reason for that is the lack of a reliable partner for Godín. Never in all of the Simeone era have Atleti been punished with four penalties against them. Last season, they only gave one away, and in the season when they won the league, none.
Diego Godín has been quality, as he has for many years. However, he can only be as good as the partnership he forms. Stefan Savic has been unimpressive to say the least, and José Giménez is a fantastic prospect, but still prone to lapses in judgment.
Over the course of the 2015-16 season, Savić emerged as El Cholo’s preferred option. This season Savić has been a disaster. Since his red card vs. Málaga on Oct. 29, the Montenegrin has been very shaky, losing his position often and engendering little trust in one on one situations.
In 2015-16, the wealth of options next to one of the world’s best defenders was a blessing for Simeone and Atlético. In 2016-17, it’s been more of a curse. With Savić in poor form, Giménez getting better but an injury concern and Lucas buried on the depth chart, the revolving door opposite Godín has become a major issue.
Midfield problems growing day by day
It’s well-known that Atlético Madrid have issues in midfield. Since Augusto Fernandez’ knee injury in September, Diego Simeone has lacked all of his key components in midfield, and this has been a problem that has manifested itself in the team’s buildup play and ability to provide adequate cover for the back four.
Koke’s transition from a wing to a more centered role was key in the planning of the squad for the current season. Koke has supplied the team with an improvement in the build-up of plays but the team lost balance and defensive strength.
Tiago is 35 and his physical state is not the most suitable which make him suffer in physically tough games. His seniority and positioning outfits the team while attacking and defending. He has been sidelined with a knee injury.
Atlético did not make a signing during the winter market due to the transfer ban. On the other hand, Cholo could turn his eyes to the academy.
At any rate, Atleti’s midfield has rarely looked so shaky, and a successful 2017 hinges on returning it to its past solidity. Whether that is borne through playing Tiago whenever fit, turning to the academy or a reliable quartet has to show itself at some point.
Tactically lost Simeone
Atlético’s strong point is the danger they can cause from dead ball situations. They are not threatening as much this season, which is a huge difference to in recent campaigns. They have three goals from set-pieces, the same as last year, but 14 goals less than 2014/2015. Perhaps the most worrying statistic for the Argentine coach is that his side have not beaten any team in the top seven this season. Atlético lost to Real Madrid, Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Villarreal and drew with Barcelona and Athletic.
After a difficult festive period, Atlético Madrid find themselves, again, in a state of flux regarding their style of play. Recent weeks have seen a return to the successful defensive style for which Diego Simeone is known. But surrounded by lackluster performances. Simeone has been adamant that results are all that matter and so long as the team continues to pick up points, the style shouldn’t be a point of contention.
However, with low scoring matches, and games that the opposition could have gotten something from if there was better finishing involved. If the defense was sturdier than it has shown to be this season, perhaps there would be more confidence in grinding out 1-0 wins. But there are defensive errors in this team.
Another issue with this is in regards to the lineups, which have been frequently unbalanced. Either Saúl or Koke have frequently found themselves on the wing this season. Both are far more effective as central midfielders. This causes concern for their long term development, not getting enough time in their preferred positions.
A rampant Sevilla are going to make it difficult for Atlético Madrid to clinch a top-three finish in la Liga. A fourth-placed finish would mean a Champions League qualifying tie for Atlético Madrid. But even that is not certain as Real Sociedad are chasing them.