Atleti finds itself backed up into a corner following yet another gut-wrenching 3-2 home loss, and will be looking to pick up the pieces days before another tough challenge on the road at Levante.
Like a defective rocket, we started the 2010-11 season aiming for the moon, with a turbo charged blast-off fueled by our Super Cup win. Yes, we hit some turbulence along the way, but for the most part we brushed aside the warning signs and kept our eyes fixed skyward.
Last night, we experienced a mid-air explosion. Everyone: the fans, the coaches and the players alike, who had all happily jumped aboard for the ride, felt the dizzying effects of watching our season suddenly spiral out of control.
Let’s face it. The clash against Aris was supposed to be a quick pick-me-up following a painful defeat to Espanyol over the weekend. We had attributed the upset in Salonika to flukiness, line up mistakes by Quique and the absence of Kun. Quique told the press ahead of the re-match at home that Aris wasn’t to be underestimated, but how many people really took him seriously deep down inside? I can tell you one thing for sure, at least 11 people didn’t.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, Los Rojiblancos were heavily favoured to defend their Europa title and stake a claim to third place in La Liga. Instead, the club now finds itself in third place out of four in its Europa League Group B and on the verge of elimination, seventh in the domestic campaign, and one loss shy of all out crisis mode.
In the hot seat are two individuals that at the beginning of the year would’ve been deemed untouchable: Quique Sánchez Flores and David de Gea.
The first word that comes to mind when dwelling on the issue of Quique is “experimentation”. It’s got to stop. Quique should settle on a set of starters and put an end to the weekly trials. He’s starting to come off as wishy-washy and indecisive, and many of us are growing restless.
De Gea’s best month off the field happened to be his worst month on it. While our canterano’s trophy case filled itself up with awards, his net filled itself up with opponents’ goals. His infallibility has been called into question, and it would not surprise me at all if Quique were to make a rash decision and send him to the bench à la Asenjo if he follows yesterday’s catastrophe up with another sub-par performance.
Looking to the near future, as looking to the near past is no fun at all, we obviously can’t afford any more mistakes in the domestic league if we want to continue convincing ourselves that a Champions League spot is ours for the taking.
Our opium that helped numb us from the pain of our abysmal Liga performances week-after-week last season were our cup runs, but the paths of this year’s competitions are staggeringly more difficult.
A ticket to the Europa League Round of 32 was right there in our grasp, a win against Aris would have instantly sent us through. Now, our future is in the hands of Rosenborg…at Aris’ Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium…site of a rock-solid lifelong undefeated UEFA club competition record. Oh, and we have to defeat group leaders Bayer Leverkusen at their BayArena.
If we can get past revelation team Espanyol in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 16, no easy task whatsoever, especially considering that the return leg of the fixture is at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, likely lying in wait in the quarter-finals would be our little neighbours Real Madrid, who should be able to see off Levante.
There will be joy, there will be tears. As usual, it’s going to be an interesting ride.