Four times in the last month we’ve had the opportunity to move into the Champions League spots, and four times we’ve blown it.
Victory in any one of the games against Valencia, Racing, Sporting or Barcelona would have taken Atleti into that elusive fourth spot but, despite some positive performances, we just couldn’t quite do it.
Simeone’s honeymoon is coming to an end and Levante’s win over Betis on Monday means we are now five points adrift of where we eventually want to be. Most would argue that we are yet to see a bad performance under Cholo, but domestic results must improve now that we have gone five without a win.
The draw at Sevilla on Saturday was perhaps not the worst outcome considering the circumstances, but frustrating ties in Santander and Gijón, where we created chance-after-chance but inexplicably couldn’t finish, are looking more and more costly as the weeks pass by.
However, we still have hope. When you look at our remaining fixtures, only once would you expect the odds to be stacked against us, and that’s the obvious fixture.
Before Real Madrid make the short journey south on April 11, the Rojiblancos have a chance to put themselves in a healthy position following the tough month we have just emerged from.
Abel Resino’s rejuvenated Granada pitch up to the Calderón on Sunday, but despite their improvement, there can be no excuses should we not end our winless league run.
The following week we play three Liga matches in the space of seven days, with trips to Mallorca and Zaragoza sandwiching a vital midweek clash with Athletic in Madrid.
We have seen marked improvement on the road since Simeone took the reins, and four points, at the very least, would be the minimum expectation from the two trips. Additionally, if Atleti really want to qualify for the Champions League then we simply have to be overcoming potential challengers such as Athletic, especially in front of our own fans.
After those games are done, we welcome Getafe to the Calderón for a mini-Madrid derby, then just days before the main Capital city clash, Cholo’s men head east to the current incumbent of fourth spot, Levante.
Even the most pessimistic of supporters will admit that 18 points, though unlikely, is not beyond the realms of possibility in our next six matches, but what can we realistically expect?
It’s important to remember that players will need the occasional rest should we progress in the Europa League, and injuries are inevitable, but our focus cannot slip.
As Simeone pointed out the other week, we should be able to welcome back playmaker Diego to the team before the end of March, and hopefully his creativity and spur will be just what the team needs to gain that edge over our competitors.
Falcao returns from suspension this weekend, and with some luck, Arda should soon be back to full fitness and ready to play twice a week too.
Our target here at AtléticoFans is to achieve between 13 to 15 points before El Derbi, but unless we break our 13 year hoodoo against our local rivals, we could still see ourselves falling short of the likes of Athletic, Málaga and Levante heading into the final stretch.
Given the fact that – even under Manzano – the red and whites have been mainly formidable at home this season, three wins should be the expectancy, and for us, at least six points are available in the away matches too.
Thirteen matches remain and we can expect countless twists and turns before the league’s summit in mid-May, but the lure of the Champions League is certainly worth the fight. It’s a tough ask, but we can do it.
How many points should we realistically expect from the next six matches? Can we win the derby? Would you rather a Europa League win or fourth place finish?