With two wins in their last five La Liga matches, Atlético Madrid is in a period of tactical transition and have been underachieving given their off-season acquisitions.
The rojiblancos are coming off of a much-needed win against Osasuna, but much has changed since they were briefly top of the league earlier in the campaign.
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) November 28, 2016
Having been swept aside against their bitter rivals in the derby last week, much was said about Diego Simeone’s supposedly new and improved side.
After beating Bayern Munich 1-0 and thrashing Granada 7-1, suddenly Atleti was on the verge of a new identity and in certain journalistic circles they were even argued to be the best team in the world.
As it happens in football, things can change and they have changed quickly for the 13/14 La Liga champions.
Now, your optimistic thinking fan of los Colchoneros will claim, and rightfully so, that all is right in Atleti’s UEFA Champions League campaign. They won their group; they did it with just one unconvincing win, and managed to beat a contender in Bayern in superb fashion.
— Atleti English (@atletienglish) November 24, 2016
They’ve certainly earned a positive continental outlook in Europe amid a number of hiccups domestically, but should Atlético fans be so sure of their side moving in the right direction even though they have performed well in Europe this season? Are their domestic shortcomings just the beginning of a larger issue?
There have been multiple answers from all over World Football as to why Atlético have underperformed for a majority of their La Liga campaign.
Early on, after the red and whites started their season with two draws against newly-promoted sides Alavés and Leganés, Spanish Football expert Graham Hunter gave his possible reasons which included their UCL final defeat in Milan this past summer, per Sky Sports:
“…Every single player who has succeeded there has bought in completely into Simeone’s ultra-strict regime and you have to believe in the man. Now, twice they’ve gone into Champions League finals, and you can lose them, but in Milan the manner in which the defeat came, the decisions that Simeone took, it’s early to be saying this, it may sound bold, but I believe some of the players have looked at the manager and no longer quite feel he’s the [svengali], the absolute ‘everything I say is right all the time’ man…”
Hunter has a point. When a team goes to such European heights and falls short two times in three years by such fine margins, it can be easy for many, in any dressing room, to begin to doubt a phenomenal manager who has brought the club to great heights.
What followed after Atleti’s poor start was a Simeone side that utterly demolished Celta Vigo and Sporting Gijon with expansive play by scoring nine goals in those two results combined.
FT: #Atleti 5-0 Sporting (Griezmann x2, Gameiro, Torres x2)
— AtléticoFans (@AtleticoFans) September 17, 2016
Further ahead, we saw Atleti draw to Barça at the Camp Nou by playing classic ‘Cholismo‘ brand of football and, of course, the great 1-0 win against Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern that was done with the same strategy that saw us defeat the Bavarians last spring in the knockout rounds.
However, the expansive play is arguably the biggest talking point and characteristic of Atleti’s season, and that is where AtleticoFans.com will start in mapping out what should be the next step for Los Colchoneros.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
When a team transitions into a new tactical style of play, there is always going to be an adjustment period. Especially if that said side isn’t backed with the financial power that the elite football clubs possess.
So, when Atlético Madrid flirted with their possession-based love affair last season, after a couple of weeks into the experiment, Simeone scrapped the plan. The team was using a 4-3-3, trying to score more goals, but despite a bright start, in fact, were doing just the opposite. They were scoring less.
The more passive, counter-attacking Atlético was brought back and Simeone was left to wait for potential targets to come in the upcoming summer transfer window to see his new project come to life.
As it happened, Kevin Gameiro and Nico Gaitán both came in July of last summer and suddenly it looked as though Atlético had the pieces to complete Simeone’s possession puzzle.
Suddenly, what was working for weeks turned into a nightmare. A trip to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán resulted in arguably the biggest tactical chess match in Europe between Sevilla and Atlético.
Sevilla’s high-pressing style combined with Atleti’s uncreative possession-play proved to be the theme, and Sevilla came out on top. Jorge Sampaoli 1-0 Simeone.
The losses against Real Sociedad and the implosion at the Madrid Derby highlighted a side that couldn’t get the best out of possession play. La Real kept the ball while two poor penalties did Atleti in.
Against Real Madrid, the issues were obvious. Atlético’s midfield didn’t show up to play fire with fire against their bitter rivals and the game ended up 3-0 but could have easily been 5-0 in Real Madrid’s favor.
— Thomas Hoskins ⭐ (@RealTomHoskins) November 19, 2016
So, does Atletico Madrid keep this style or should they scrap it again? Should they take their Floyd Mayweather defensive approach or the Manny Pacquiao brawler philosophy? Well, it seems as though Simeone is looking back to his old ways as my tweet explains:
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) November 29, 2016
But, personally, this shouldn’t be the way. Okay, perhaps Simeone was merely trying to stop the bleeding following a run of poor results in the league, but given that his contract was reduced to one more season, he should be thinking for the long term.
It’d be better for Atlético to try and grow with their new style and have it perfected by next season than to leave it stuck in limbo once more.
If the midfield formations above are something he wants to prolong to secure the desired results then he should reconsider.
Obviously, matches against potential stiffer opponents in the UCL should warrant the beast that is Cholismo. But players like Yannick Carrasco, Ángel Correa, Koke, and Gameiro should be allowed to grow in their natural expansive systems.
Mistakes can lead to growth at the expense of poor short-term results, but it could very well lead to bigger and better things even after Simeone is gone.
Follow Carlo Valladares via Twitter: https://twitter.com/C_V_News