After four straight matches in which Atlético managed just three total goals, the rojiblancos have shrugged off the February blues. Atleti has turned on the heat in March, with five different goal scorers totalling nine goals in their last three matches.
For much of the season, this Atleti has identified as a typical Diego Simeone team. They sat back and played defensively, even at home. They did not score nearly as many goals as Real Madrid and Barcelona but consistently won games 1-0.
Despite holding second place for the majority of the season, Atleti had not seemed to reach its peak offensively. Young players, fixture congestion and poor philosophy took the brunt of the blame, but this recent run of form is the culmination of several different parts coming together to form a team.
Over the first half of the season, Simeone tried many different lineups, not quite sure of the best combination and formation between his new transfers. He tried Koke and Griezmann on the wing, thinking one of his more experienced players could accept the new challenge. These switches came with mixed results, but when the boss asked Saul to play wide at Real, he exceeded expectations.
Saúl’s move to the wing gave Griezmann the confidence to move back to his secondary striker role. This change, along with Fernando Torres finding the fountain of youth and even Ángel Correa providing cover off the bench has overhauled Atletico’s attack game and turned one of La Liga’s tamer teams into a real goal scoring threat.
Atlético still has fixture congestion, and the players have had to get used to Saúl out wide and Koke back in the middle on the fly. The adjustment has been surprisingly flawless and made the games much easier to watch.
Saúl out wide and the formation change are not the only thing that has improved this month. Atlético also press the ball more and do not sit back on their heels as they did as recently as the match at Getafe in mid-February.
Of course, this team is not perfect. The midfield remains crowded and promising bench players Óliver Torres and Ángel Correa still have not found full roles. Augusto and Matias Kranevitter will also receive limited minutes and have trouble finding a place in this team. If Simeone can find a way to accommodate these players, he will have the depth to field fully rested teams in every game.
The team seems to play with more confidence. Their passing accuracy has improved marginally from 75 percent in February to 81 percent in March. They have converted 21 percent of their shots into goals in March compared with just 9 percent in February.
It took the rojiblancos a few months to find their form, but there is no better time to peak than now with Champions League heating up.
Already sporting the best defensive record in Europe, this recent attacking form means Atlético should be able to hang with just about any team they face.