Defending the crown – Rotation, rotation, rotation?

Luis takes a look at the need to keep our players fresh for our title defence

Should Griezmann be getting more minutes?

Should Griezmann be getting more minutes?

With a two week break due to international fixtures, Atleti fans have the opportunity to reflect on the state of affairs so far this season.

We sit in fourth spot, four points behind eternal rivals Real Madrid who are presently perched at the top of the table. The current situation is nowhere near a crisis but considering that we had only dropped four points this time last season (and also in the 2012/13 campaign) there is definitely room for improvement.

This is undoubtedly Atleti’s worst start to a season under Diego Simeone but the formula has not changed. Our Argentine coach has stuck with same style that has transformed Atletico Madrid from a fringe top four team to Liga champions in little over three years. This is the best Atletico side since our mid 90s triumphs so what need is there to criticise him?

There is no doubt that our current status would not have been achieved without Cholo but the fact that we do not look like a team fighting to regain their title is disconcerting.

Complacency is an increasing occurrence within the squad and it seems the desire to prove everyone wrong, again, is not there. Trying to motivate a group of champions is no easy task, especially if that group are not one of the ‘favourites’. The successes over the past 3 years have been unprecedented and now that we have joined Europe’s elite it is essential we remain there.

Performances from experienced players such as Gabi and Miranda over the past few weeks have exemplified this lack of desire. These are players that we looked to when the rest of the squad were under performing and would show what it means to be a rojiblanco.

Leadership from experienced players is even more important when it comes to integrating new squad members. The new recruits have not quite had the impact that many would have wanted so far. In my personal opinion I think that Simeone and everyone involved have made the correct replacements and we have more depth than ever before. Despite this, my problem lies with the use of these players.

The consistent benching of Griezmann, a player with vast La Liga and international experience is one that does not sit well with many colchoneros. There is no doubt that the Frenchman is one of best young players in the world right now and his effect on games that he is involved in proves his quality. The lack of pace in the build play of Atleti is another reason why the winger should be one of the first names on the team sheet.

It seems that Griezmann has not made the transition into the team that Simeone would have hoped for, much like the towering forward brought in from Bayern Munich last summer. Mario Mandzukic has also been subject to scrutiny.

The Croatian came into the side to replace one of the most prolific strikers in Europe last season, Diego Costa, not to mention his world class predecessors. The former Bayern hitman has netted on five occasions in the league this season. By this time last year Costa had scored 13 and the previous year Falcao had scored 10. Mario has not been quite the striker that Atleti desperately need so far and it is fair to say that the honeymoon period is well and truly over.

What makes matters worse is the lack of rotation. Now, this very same topic was not an issue over the past 2 seasons in which a rarely changed side shined and proved all critics wrong. Simeone’s chickens seem to have now come home to roost.

The team are showing signs of fatigue almost every week in games that we would have expected to cruise 12 months ago. But with the current depth of the squad this should not be as big of a problem as it is. The over reliance of Koke is becoming more and more apparent, especially when the 22 year old is being asked to play the full 90 against Malmo midweek.

The lack of consistency from Miranda and Gabi should surely allow both Gimenez and Saul to step in and showcase their talents. Not to mention the last minute signing Cerci and Cristian Rodriguez, whose request for more playing time seems to have been dismissed.

Rotation may have been somewhat of a taboo last season but it is the only way to keep our best players rested in order for them to be able to give their all in every single competition this year.

Although the international break is seen as a nuisance by many fans who wish to get on with the season, especially bearing in mind the start that Atleti have had, it has given the players and more importantly Simeone, a chance to evaluate how things are going and pin point the areas we need to improve.

This is a new challenge for the Argentine, who is an expert at inspiring the ‘underdogs’ to success. Now he must guide his champions to regain their hard fought title.

Everyone here at AtleticoFans hopes that this is the turning point of the season and we see the type of performances that have captivated us as fans over the past years.

  • Kris

    The problem is that we are not underdogs anymore. We are one of Europe’s elites. Last season and the season before that was okay that we lost some games because nothing was expected of us. We have won CDR, Supercup, Supercopa, Liga, Europa, CL finalists, more is expected of us now. When there is success, people crave for more and more as history suggests but here what are we doing? We are complacent with what we have. Oh well, who the fuck cares we are still a small team like we were before, hell no we ain’t a small team nomore. We spent 100m+ in the summer to improve our squad, and we are not even using those players that were brought in…

  • starvs

    Good article, agree on the whole.

    Think the issue pretty simple really, we are missing the great player we lost; we got good ones back, but we lost truly world class ones. Coupled with the dip in form of some of the stalwarts (Gabi/Miranda). The pretty capable replacement’s haven’t fully integrated in time. How much of this is due to Cholo (mis)management is the real question. I’d say Griezmann not playing enough is my only real beef. Mostly it’s just hard to replace Costa/Filipe.

    The next big test, rotation wise, for Cholo in my mind is if he gets Gimenez some minutes, think it is clearly warranted at this point.

    Cerci should also be getting some shots you’d think?

  • AaX

    Only the Right Kind of Rotation. Constant tinkering as has happened to many others will jeopardise team’s performance. Play the Main 11 to develop form and rotate when needed when players aren’t performing or tired.

  • AaX

    And Please be realistic and patient. I have to break this on you guys that when the Club themselves decided to sell our main players before the season begins, Simeone knows that the available realistic target is doing well in the Champions League to earn the money and status and compete for the La Liga Title but not Defending it. And I can’t blame him. If previous players are still in Atletico plus some new signings then we are defending it right now. If you want to start criticising, criticise the Board.

  • AaX

    And if many of those who wants to criticise the manager of not yet being successful in changing the team’s previous Championship Winning Style, It is Them that are ‘abandoning’ the team, and not Simeone who is letting the club down

  • AaX

    Sorry, I mean ‘blame’ the manager. Criticising especially constructive and realistic ones are expected, healthy and normal. P E A C E

  • Cerci has been WAY under played. I like Raul Garcia but I think Cerci should be the starter. He has more finesse. With Griezmann on one side of Mandzu and Cerci on the other, then having Koke, Gabi/Tiago and Arda right behind them, that would be a great starting line up.

  • Before our La Liga championship, being 4th was what I always expected for them. And I was happy with that, but you are right, now I want 1st place. Atleti signed some really good players that are sitting on the bench.

  • Chewie

    There’s been an interview with Cholo, where he answered some of these questions. He said that Cerci is not adapting as fast as he hoped, the Italian has problems getting to a new style of play in the team and the league. Not sure why Griezmann doesn’t start, Simeone stated that he’s relying on him and Arda heavily.

    I personally would like us if not finish the first, then stay in the race until the very end. To keep causing problems to the title contenders. Like dogs, not underdogs.

    Rotation… I would understand coach’s reluctance to rotate if we had no talent on the bench. But the strangest thing is that we do! Young Gimenez is a beast, Saul is promising, Cebolla, Ansaldi and Jimenez are not too bad as well, they at least deserve a chance. Even Jesus Gamez is okay. Not to speak about Cerci who came to us as a leader.

    I think that Cholo is experimenting but very cautiously. Maybe they try new schemes durindg the training sessions and he’s not pleased with the results yet, who knows.

    Next time I hope to see either the good old 11 in full power, with laser focus, punishing set pieces and counter-attacks, or some injection of new blood and, more importantly, pace. Imagine how fast would we be with Siqueira, Juanfran, Saul, Cebolla, Cerci, Griezmann and young Jimenez. But I don’t think Cholo will bet on speed, it seems like he’s trying to make the team play combination football.

    BTW, have you seen the Spain game? Two Atletico players, two assists. Quite a result, I’d say.

  • I put a lot of thinking in this, and this is what I reached :

    Last season we started very strongly, after 2 draws and 2 great games vs Barca in the super cup, we started La Liga with win after win after win .. 8 wins in a row, including wins in Bernabeu, Sánchez Pizjuán & Anoeta, then after a slip vs Espanyol we kept wining, and scoring a lot of goals, especially at home, 5 vs Rayo, 4 vs Almeria, 3 vs Valencia, 5 vs Betis & 7 vs Getafe

    And in the same time both Madrid & Barca had new coaches and a couple of new players who needed time to adapt, especially those who came from outside Spain
    I believe that in November or December, Cholo started to believe that he has a real opportunity (and a very rare one) to win the league, although he kept denying that until the last 5 weeks

    That’s why he couldn’t take a single risk and depended on a small group of 14 players

    This season Cholo made his calculations and realized that La Liga will go back to its normal phase of being abnormal !
    Each of Madrid & Barca will get more than 90 points, just like they did in 2010, 2011 & 2012 (while in 2013 Real couldn’t reach 90, but Barca got 100)
    so, even if we repeated what we did last season and collected 90 points -which is very difficult- they won’t be enough to win the title

    On the other hand, Simeone looked with his very experienced eye to Valencia & Sevilla and realized that they have good squads and good coaches, and in a league with at least 10 very weak teams they can get a lot of points
    In this abnormal league, 70 points could not be enough to finish 4th this season

    So, again, he could not take any risk, because the CL is a mater of life or death for us, missing it for only one season could destroy all what we built in the last 3 years

    This could be the reason why Simeone is very cautious and reluctant to making drastic changes, and with a zero margin of error, maybe he is right after all

  • starvs

    Great post, agree with everything really. But think the biggest point is 90 points is a great and incredibly difficult achievement; and even still, most recent years would not have been enough for the title, not all that close some seasons. It’s tough to win La Liga, and it will often only be possible in the right circumstances as long as the money remains this ridiculously unequal.

  • Chewie

    Great perspective, spot on.

  • Ringo ST Gambo

    I don’t want rotation for the sake of rotation, if Koke is simply unable to tire, that’s great.

    I think I need patience, but if Cerci is adapting too slowly, why add him in the last minutes and not help him by giving at least a bit more
    Even moreso with Jiménez

    But oh well it’s only November