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.