Following yesterday’s victory over Espanyol that included Simao’s emotional farewell to the Colchonero faithful, Atlético head into the Christmas break rehabilitated having quickly amassed a four game unbeaten streak.
The squad has regained some of the swagger and confidence of the early days of the campaign, and looks poised to zero in on the Champions League spots and maintain its domestic cup run alive to kick off the New Year.
But will a return to action in 2011 without Simao on the squad spoil all the fun?
Quique shows concerns about offensive depth and hints at Elias’ role
At a news conference after last night’s game, Quique Sánchez Flores responded to a question posed by an AS reporter regarding the lack of offensive depth on the squad, especially considering Simao’s imminent exit.
“We’ve analyzed the situation and we’re looking for ways to make up for it. We’ve spent some time studying it,” Quique said.
“Even before, when it was only Simao and Reyes we had a shortage (of wingers), a role that can be fulfilled by Elias. But now, with Simao’s departure, we will have to touch up that position.”
Elias has already expressed his desire of playing a central midfield role at Atleti, and made it clear that it’s the position he is most comfortable with. The Brazilian’s duties however, will largely depend on what type of additional reinforcements, if any at all, club directors bring in during the winter transfer window.
In-house options include Fran Mérida and Alberto Perea, but from what we have seen so far, Quique doesn’t seem ready to roll the dice on our promising youngsters.
An important home shutout
Atleti fans may have lamented the many missed opportunities we had to take a bigger lead into the return leg at Espanyol. Looking on the bright side though, we should feel pleased with having survived Forlán’s early exit and Reyes’ first half dismissal long enough to secure a clean sheet.
The home shutout against los Pericos means that if we score a single goal at the Cornellà-El Prat when we travel to Barcelona in the first week of January, Espanyol will be forced to respond with at least three goals if they want to qualify to the next round.
Our Europa League semi-final showdown against Liverpool last season comes to mind, when we took a 1-0 lead from the first leg at the Calderón into Anfield. Despite going down 2-0 in the return leg in England, an extra time goal by Forlán that knotted the fixture at 2-2 sent us through to the final on the away goals rule.
Surely Quique will emphasize the importance of putting one past the opponents’ net as early as possible in the second leg. If we accomplish that objective, it will condition the White and Blues and force them to frantically attack, hopefully rendering them more vulnerable to our lethal counters.
The ankle sprain Diego Forlán sustained yesterday, according to early reports in the Spanish media, will keep him out of action for about two weeks. He is a strong doubt for our 2011 league debut against Racing Santander on 3 January.
José Antonio Reyes, who saw red for the 8th time in his career and 5th time with Atleti, faces an automatic suspension for the clash against Racing and will miss out.
Without Forlan and Reyes at his disposal, Quique will be forced to roll out a patchwork line-up against Racing. It will be interesting to see what the Rojiblanco boss will draw up come game-time.
No goals from open play in two games
Without Forlan by his side for most of the match, Kun once again assumed the squad’s goalscoring responsibilities but did not deliver. It was not for want of trying though. The Argentine starlet did everything humanly possible to score, but his last touch was always just off.
We have not scored a goal from open play in the last two games. The last four have come from set pieces (one penalty, three freekicks).
De Gea fueled by Golden Boy snub?
David de Gea turned in another spectacular performance last night and looked like the other-worldly creature that attracted the global spotlight earlier on this season.
Osvaldo and co. attacked early and often, but De Gea, who learned of his second runner-up finish for Tuttosport‘s illustrious Golden Boy award yesterday, was up for the challenge.
Diego Godín continues to ride the pine
The Uruguayan central defender has now missed four consecutive matches. At this point, it seems as if only an injury to one of the two starting central defenders (Perea or Domínguez) would allow Godín a chance to vindicate himself.
Tiago and Assuncao, a reliable partnership
Out of all the midfield combinations tested out by Quique this campaign, the duo composed of Tiago and Paulo Assuncao has proven the most reliable. We have not lost a single match this season when they appear together in the fold. They have now taken the field alongside each other our last two games.
The search for the next captain
When Simao was taken off to receive his standing ovation from the Calderón, he gave his armband to Perea and the Colombian served as skipper for the final couple of minutes of the game.
Now that Antonio López has lost his regular starting job and Simao has left, who do you think will serve as our next captain?