Diagnosing a case of ‘big game syndrome’

Tarek looks at a worrying trend in Atlético's title defence

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Full time. Celta 2-0 Atleti. That was the end of an eventful week where we saw the best and worst of our beloved Atleti. The team now sit seven points behind Real Madrid, and six behind Barcelona.

After such a defeat, we must look upon ourselves, see what went wrong and try to correct it, right?

I mean we are the La Liga champions, we just won 4-0 against our arch-nemesis!

If this is the train of thought running through our players’ heads right now, then it’s no wonder we lost. The thought that we should win easily, with no big effort. Nothing will derail a season more than overconfidence.

“We were missing important players,” said Godin after the match. He was talking about Arda and Koke, the most creative players in the team. The last time both players were missing from the starting XI, Atlético went down three goals to nil against Osasuna.

It’s true that the team did look disjointed in the first half, and Simeone admitted as much.

“I chose the wrong side in the first half. I wasted 45 minutes, I made a mistake,” the Argentina told the media after the game. The decision to start the trio of Mario Mandzukic, Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann backfired.

Cholo tried to correct his mistake at half-time, by sending new recruit Cani into the fray. The barely-used midfielder replaced Fernando Torres, who had an extremely quiet first half. We looked bright and threatened in bursts following the change, yet the damage to us was done following the break, when Celta scored their two goals.

One could blame the formation or the refereeing decisions. Others could blame the pitch, the absences to the side. I only see one reason – complacency. I should be more precise.

Complacency after the 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid. I like to call it the ‘big game syndrome’.

After every so called ‘big game’ – whether it’s a Champions League match against a top team, a cup final, or especially a match against Real or Barcelona – where Atleti upset the odds and win with a show of will and heart, we tend to drop in intensity in the match right after.

It’s a real syndrome. Here’s the proof.

It is true we are missing key players. It is also true we were unbalanced in formation. If anything separates Atletico from the rest, it is that we don’t rely on individuals to win games.

That our forte has always been counter-attacking, and not creating chances. How many games have we won by defending sturdily and taking advantage of dead ball situations? Yes – most of them.

But fear not my fellow rojiblancos, for after each match where we display ‘big game syndrome’, we’ve recorded a win, along with a remarkable improvement in the tempo of our players.

It’s as if each loss fires up the team and return them to the golden rule of ‘partido a partido’. One game at a time.

Will we compete for the title this year? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I only care about our match on Saturday against Almeria, and I am sure Simeone and the team share my thoughts.

Aupa Atleti!

Tarek is an Atlético fan from Lebanon who is clearly just as annoyed at losing to Celta as the rest of us. You can find him on Twitter at @hachem_tarek.


  • I kinda of agree with you, but I must point out that only the following games on this list would count: Rayo, Olympiakos (maybe) and Celta. Valencia and Barcelona are good teams, so losing to them can be understood. We beat the yellow submarine by a goal and that is what I would expect.
    The issue is, we need a 3rd midfielder that is creative. It is sad to say, but Gabi and Tiago can not be depended on by themselves.
    Now that we lost, we will be looking behind us because Valencia is only 3 points behind. The 6 point cushion is gone and now we can’t lose any more or hope that the current 4th , 5th and 6th place teams start losing…which doesn’t look very likely.

  • Welcome to our family Tarek

    I wouldn’t call it a big game syndrome, because I can find a good explanation for almost every defeat and draw after all the 6 big games you mentioned (which 4 of them are vs Madrid, and this itself is an explanation, since the derbies have their own rules and circumstances and in many cases it’s easier to win them than wining against weaker opponents)

    Just like the first comment, we lost against Barca & Valencia because they are good teams, and they were playing at home
    And let me add that we played against Valencia after just 64 hours of the end of Juventus game, LFP wanted us to lose, and they succeeded

    Rayo’s game was the first game in La Liga, and we where still looking for our balance after too many changes, if you remember, youth team player Hector came in for Mandzukic that night, it was also an away game, and Cholo wasn’t on the bench

    Olympiakos game was a little bit of both, first game in UCL and 6th game of the season, and they are a strong team at home, they didn’t only beat us there but also Man Utd & Juve

    Against Villarreal we did score a goal and we should have won, but the ref had a different opinion,
    The division of the stands after the incident vs Dportivo may also had some effect

    And we lost Celta’s game in min 54 of the derby, when Arda & Raul got themselves suspended after we lost Koke for injury
    Playing with 3 holding midfielder & 3 strikers would have never worked, not even against Alcorcon, and even if Cani have started the game, I don’t think he would have made a difference, he isn’t ready yet
    You mentioned Osasuna game, but Arda & Koke both came in as substitutes that day, while non of them playing at all NEVER happened in La Liga under Simeone before, and add to that losing Raul as well .. we had to lose

    As a team, I don’t think we suffer after big games, because we are one of the strongest teams in the world physically and mentally
    For me, they are normal defeats but they just happened to come after big games

    But there is one person though who I could suspect that he has a big game syndrome,
    Diego Simoene
    He just doesn’t have the clearest mind this season

  • Tarek Hachem

    Hey bro, thanks for the comment. You have a point there, in that gabi and tiago are not the most creative midfielders out there. What i was trying to point out here was that atletico is based on a counterattacking style of play, and therefore the creative part can be forgone in some games as long as we keep our defence water-tight.

  • Tarek Hachem

    Salam ahmad, thank you very much for the welcome and comment, i appreciate it. I agree with you, barca and valencia are teams not to be taken for granted at all, but the thing is, we did not display the same enthusiasm and fight that we put on in the games precedent to those. We dropped heavily in intensity and we lost. It doesnt mean that we should have won, but we should have kept the same level of play in all games.

  • Adi Harper

    I think Tarek has a good point here on this ‘big game syndrome’. Although the Barca losses could be understandable defeats for being tough, all the other games are ones we should be taking 3 points from (or at least 1 point at Valencia) if we are to be La Liga champions again.

    I see however that Jesus Gamez has repeated the ‘partido a partido’ (game by game) Someone mantra yesterday that has worked so well in the past – it’s time to be optimistic again! 🙂

  • atleti10

    Nice article. Worrys me how reliant we are two guys. Imagine we were to lose Griezmann, it would be similarly detremental to the team. funnly enough I think we already own two perfect cover players in Oliver and Correa. If we can hold onto everyone this summer we’ll be a much more complete outfit next year.

    Anyway as you mentioned we’ve only Almeria to focus on.

  • Yes, we dropped in intensity in those games, and I’m thinking that Simeone is giving more attention and concentration on the derbies more than other games, it’s like a personal challenge and non-end revenge for what happened in Lisbon, and this is reflecting on his players

    This is not “partido a partido”, this is :
    “algunos partidos son mas importantes que otros partidos” , and that’s why Arda & Raul received those ridiculous yellows after securing the win in the derby and didn’t think at all about Celta, because it was -at least in their subconscious- ” less important ”

    Let’s meet half way and call it ” Derby Syndrome ” !

  • GermanAtletico

    Atleti proved the theory correct last night. Were a completely different team from the kick off and were a pleasure to watch! Backed off a little bit after half time and Torres had no impact at all, but overall a good result!