Atletico’s UCL expectations illustrate growth under Simeone

Football

Luis Suarez did not wait, and he did not look again. On the finish of Atletico Madrid‘s go to to Elche on Wednesday night time, he headed straight down the tunnel, nonetheless irritated that the purpose he’d scored was dominated out. He had felt like he wanted it — a little bit vindication on the shut of a troublesome season, a reminder that he was nonetheless right here. He had began simply one of many previous 5 video games, and his final purpose was towards Alaves seven matches in the past. In latest weeks, he has not often bought off the bench. This yr he has scored half as many as he did final season, when he led Atletico to the LaLiga title.

He’s nonetheless their prime scorer.

Suarez has 11 league objectives, the identical quantity as Angel Correa, who someway by no means actually feels like a starter. Matheus Cunha, signed in the summertime, has six. Joao Felix — who, at a switch price of €126 million, is the costliest participant in membership historical past, and the person coach Diego Simeone says he’ll carry on even when Joao retains getting offended with him within the hope that in the future he’ll put it collectively — was out injured. He has eight. Marcos Llorente, scorer of 12 league objectives final season, in double figures for objectives and assists, would not have any in any respect.

Antoine Griezmann, residence once more after strolling out to affix Barcelona a yr later than he had initially thought, hadn’t scored since January, when he discovered the web towards third-tier Rayo Majadahonda within the Copa del Rey. “It is my fault, I settle for that,” Griezmann stated. “The objectives will return.” They’ll must. In his final spell at Atletico, he scored 25, 32, 26, 29 and 21. He now has eight. He hasn’t bought any in LaLiga in 2022, racking up a complete of three league objectives all season.

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The summer time’s different massive signing, midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, did rating on Wednesday. It was his second purpose, and if he is not there for that — a lot as he bought 9, seven and 9 in his final three seasons in Italy — nor has he discovered a pure place but.

And but this season Atletico have truly scored extra objectives than final yr. “Unbelievable,” Simeone known as it, and it’s in essentially the most literal sense: watching them, it is laborious to consider. It is the sort of statistic that had you checking the numbers as a result of it would not appear to make sense; it would not tally with the attention check. And then you definitely see that they’ve additionally conceded extra. Rather a lot, lot extra. They’ve allowed 41 objectives towards, in comparison with 25 final season. It is their worst determine up to now decade.

Every week in the past, everybody was banging on about Atletico Madrid doing a guard of honour for Real Madrid, the lately topped league champions, as custom suggests. The controversy turned tiresome and affected, as this stuff are likely to, and ultimately Atletico didn’t stand there and applaud Actual Madrid onto the pitch, announcing in advance they were not going to participate in what they stated had turn out to be a pantomime.

As a substitute, they simply performed. They beat Actual Madrid 1-0, too, though the grins and the jokes and the beginning XI — no Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric or Vinicius Junior — underlined that, for his or her neighbours a minimum of, it did not matter a lot.

For Atletico, it mattered quite a bit, simply not for the explanation it might need completed. Ought to have completed, maybe.

It was the primary derby they’d received in eight tries, and the primary ever on the Metropolitano; their final win, in 2015, had been on the Vicente Calderon. A run damaged finally. However this might have been a title decider, and it wasn’t. Atletico Madrid versus Actual Madrid with 4 video games to go. By no means thoughts whether or not you truly do the pasillo; an even bigger concern is that reality that you simply’re able the place you is likely to be anticipated to, the league title race misplaced 5 weeks earlier than the top.

Atletico have been at all times the workforce that would defend, however they might not defend their league title. It is laborious to recollect a title defence so poor, in actual fact. It was over nearly earlier than it was completed, a part of their drawback seemingly the actual fact that they have been champions.

Even after they have been prime after six weeks, Simeone admitted “we’re not the place we need to be.” One thing was not proper, one thing had shifted. “We want a change of perspective,” Mario Hermoso stated, and that was after a victory. “Everybody desires to win, to raise trophies, however for that to occur there are a great deal of issues that must occur first. Preparation, coaching, perspective — that is the inspiration on which success is constructed,” he admitted. Have a look at their outcomes towards the underside three alone: 14 factors dropped, sufficient to place them prime.

Later within the season Jose Gimenez would admit that “if you win the league, a number of groups loosen up as a result of they are saying, ‘Properly, it is occurred.'” Simeone stated: “For a workforce like Atletico, it isn’t simple to be champions; it is a membership not used to being champions yearly.” Every week in the past, Jan Oblak stated he did not perceive what was occurring to them, the place their heads have been, “as a result of it is actually not on the pitch.” On Wednesday night time there was a “dialogue” between him and Renan Lodi.

By the point the derby got here round, the league was lengthy, lengthy gone. It had definitively slipped them by in December, after they misplaced 4 in a row. Now they’re 14 factors behind Actual Madrid, having performed a sport extra.

In the summertime, when Simeone was making an attempt to influence Griezmann to return residence, he recommended that with him, Suarez and Felix, this workforce might even win the Champions League. As a substitute, they have been knocked out within the quarterfinals. They took Manchester City to the road, might need received it and doubtless ought to have, however they have been knocked out once more. The concept they have been unfortunate is undermined by this straightforward reality: they did not win a single sport at residence within the competitors. Within the Copa del Rey, they have been knocked out by Real Sociedad, 4-0.

“All types of issues occur in a season,” Griezmann stated on Wednesday. Atletico’s strongest-ever squad (or so everybody thought) didn’t compete because it ought to. There was a way of misplaced identification all yr, a recurring theme going again a while now. That they had a workforce that modified weekly. There have been accidents, too — Stefan Savic and Gimenez particularly — and departures. Kieran Trippier left; Daniel Wass, who was signed to switch him, has performed simply 45 minutes. Nothing was ever actually proper.

Simeone admitted that he had discovered himself able that he had by no means skilled earlier than in 10½ years on the membership. This was “for positive our hardest season,” he stated. Some issues, although, don’t change. In Atletico Madrid’s worst marketing campaign, on Wednesday they secured Champions League soccer for subsequent yr. And should you’re saying, “so what?” you’ll be proper to. So they need to do. Simply take a look at the squad, take a look at what it price to assemble. That is the least you would anticipate. Properly, it’s now, and that is the purpose. With Simeone, this has turn out to be commonplace, a minimal requirement, the coach partly a sufferer of his personal success, which turns into self-perpetuating. And which completely should be sustained.

After Atletico have been overwhelmed by Levante, Simeone had a gathering with the membership’s CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin and the sporting director Andrea Berta. That was adopted by a gathering with the taking part in workers, wherein they have been handed a stark message: if you don’t attain the Champions League, it is your contracts which might be in danger. We won’t be able to pay you. Atletico received the subsequent six video games, earlier than that second loss to Mallorca. Champions League qualification was essential to continue to grow and simply to maintain their gamers; they’d budgeted for it. It turns into mutually dependent, a circle: soccer success prompts development in any respect ranges, which permits for extra soccer success, which permits for … and so forth.

It wasn’t at all times so, and there needs to be a place to begin.

“After I got here, they requested for 4 or 5 Champions League {qualifications},” Simeone stated. It was wanted to construct, to consolidate and to compete. Overlook 4 or 5: subsequent yr it will likely be 10 in a row. Each single full season wherein Simeone has been there, a routine, a primary commonplace made from one thing that that was not a certainty, that again then was celebrated as successful. On his four-hundredth league sport as Atletico Madrid coach — seven off the membership document — his workforce certified for the competitors for a tenth consecutive season. He and Luis Aragones have taken cost for 807 of two,802 Atletico video games within the first division between them; the opposite coaches common 32 every.

That is 10/10 for Simeone, 3/35 within the interval earlier than him. It’s 10 top-three finishes in a row, in comparison with none within the earlier sixteen seasons, one within the earlier 20.

Of their worst yr, they did one thing they might have celebrated as soon as, one thing which may simply have others considering: “not them once more,” however they don’t seem to be going away. There was a second seven or eight years in the past, after a sport at Atletico’s previous Calderon stadium — gone now, razed to rubble to go away a motorway operating proper via the center of the pitch — when a defeated coach from one other one in all Europe’s largest golf equipment got here via and gestured in direction of the pitch. “What a horrible workforce, that lot,” he stated, and now they’re again.

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