by Hal Walker - @HalWalker
After a winless run of three games for Diego Simeone’s men, a second-half strike from Saul Niguez ensured Atletico Madrid returned to winning ways with a 1-0 win at home to Las Palmas, but why do doubts remain over the Atleti side this year?
It has been an extraordinary year Los Colchoneros who despite finishing 2016 in 6th place (one point behind Villareal in 4th), reached the Champions League Final in May only to be beaten on penalties by their Madrid neighbours and have comfortably secured qualification to the last-32 in this year’s European campaign, qualifying as group winners.
However, Atletico’s form has been inconsistent at best this year and many pundits are already ruling Simeone’s side out of the title race; an honour they famously won in 2014 and have narrowly missed out on in the two campaigns since.
They have lost three of their last seven fixtures and looked particularly poor in their 3-0 defeat to Villareal at the El Madrigal on the 12th December, in a game that was compounded by goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s shoulder injury that could see the Slovenian stopper ruled out for up to four months.
A trademark that has been clearly missing is what has been so well instilled into them in recent seasons by Simeone in their energetic high pressing game; off-the-ball instructions to smother and stifle opponents high up the pitch, allowing the Atleti midfielders to win possession when the opponent is vulnerable deep in their own half. Recent performances have been lethargic with no real intensity in the midfield or in attacking situations.
A particular concern may be that of the recent goal-drought suffered by French striker Antoine Griezmann who is without a goal since the 2nd October, his worst in his La Liga playing career. The striker, who was confirmed as third for the 2016 Ballon d’Or had notched 6 goals for the season before this period.
Simeone will look to the upcoming winter break in La Liga as a crucial point in their season as his side will look to revive their domestic form, but particularly to rediscover their freshness and high-octane pressing tactic that wears down opponents so effectively.
Despite stuttering results for Atleti domestically thus far this season, no faults or lack of confidence have been evident in their 2016/17 Champions League form, having beaten Bayern Munich to top their group table with relative ease. As last
year’s beaten finalists, they may well fancy the competition as their best chance of silverware this season, in possibly Simeone’s last in the Spanish capital.
Despite them only being nine points behind La Liga leaders and city rivals Real Madrid, a title charge in the New Year will surely be too much to expect from Atleti in both sides’ current form, particularly with Simeone’s burgeoning desire to lift the Champions League as a manager in his career. However, if they can build on scrappy results like the 1-0 result at home to Las Palmas, keep developing the club’s young rising stars (Angel Correa, Yannick Carrasco & Jose Jiménez) and make sensible signings to improve the first x11, confidence will build and 2017 could be Atletico Madrid’s year.
They simply have too much character, passion, talent and energy to fall away