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Atlético’s lack of internal competition contributing to sinking form

Atlético Madrid demonstrated a worrying incapability to meet the second in Wednesday’s unhappy, anticlimactic Champions League capitulation to AC Milan. Enjoying at residence and needing a win to proceed relying on themselves within the competition’s group stage, Atleti fell aside on the finish of an anxiety-riddled efficiency, performed at a normal far beneath what is predicted. The rojiblancos landed solely two pictures heading in the right direction — each from midfielders — and hovered round 40 % possession all through the sport.

Atlético’s makeshift 4-4-2 with Rodrigo De Paul as a right-winger didn’t hassle Milan. On the contrary. Stefano Pioli’s males had been comfy on the ball and caught to a transparent, press-heavy recreation plan all through. Central midfielders Franck Kessié and Sandro Tonali had been clear and environment friendly in each phases, with Kessié establishing Junior Messias’s profitable aim. When wanted, Pioli made good substitutions that enhanced and modified his facet’s potential to attain its goal — Zlatan Ibrahimović may need scored the winner moments earlier than Messias did.

On the opposite touchline, Simeone threw on two pure full-backs, two secondary strikers, and a central midfielder — and Atlético nonetheless seemed nowhere close to difficult Ciprian Tătăruşanu.

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Atletico Madrid v AC Milan: Group B - UEFA Champions League

Photograph by Claudio Villa/AC Milan by way of Getty Photos

“It’s a sophisticated state of affairs, however we’ve got gotten into this case ourselves. I don’t know why that is occurring, we’ve got a staff that may do rather more. Now we have to play effectively, win (in Portugal) and hope it’s sufficient to be within the spherical of 16, which is the place we would like to be,” Jan Oblak mentioned after the loss.

Cholo’s scramble to appropriate the errant preliminary technique made Atlético much more determined. The squad he has earlier than him is arguably essentially the most proficient he’s had in 10 years as Atleti’s supervisor, but it’s additionally one of the more-imbalanced teams he’s overseen. There are 5 forwards to 4 center-backs. There may be one pure left-back, and he’s hardly ever used. There is just one defensive midfielder.

Simeone has a say in how the first-team squad is constructed, however it’s finally the membership’s duty to make clever, wise transfers — gamers who can compete and contribute inside an outlined, repeatable taking part in fashion. Simply three months into the 2021/22 season, it’s apparent sporting director Andrea Berta made a elementary mistake over the summer time in failing to purchase satisfactory defensive cowl — comparable to an additional central defender and/or one other defensive-minded pivot.

A disproportionate squad, mixed with Simeone’s stubbornness, means the competition for locations the coach typically talks about in press conferences has been decreased vastly.


José Giménez, Atleti’s third captain, has been in Simeone’s beginning 11 nearly each time he’s been wholesome — he has been named a starter in 13 of the 14 video games he’s performed. He took duty for Messias’s winner on Wednesday, which got here on the finish of a dismal particular person outing.

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Although Giménez struggled positionally and misplaced a number of easy passes, his place within the staff isn’t underneath risk.

Atletico Madrid v AC Milan: Group B - UEFA Champions League

Photograph by Denis Doyle/Getty Photos

For all Mario Hermoso’s presents as a ball-playing center-back, he’s a mediocre one-on-one defender. Hermoso has proven little development defensively over his two-plus seasons in Madrid. His obtrusive weaknesses on this space have been circled in vibrant purple ink this season with Atlético delivery so many targets.

Nonetheless, Hermoso has began each recreation besides one.

Koke is in an prolonged run of unhealthy form, which I wrote about and contextualized during the last worldwide break. The captain just isn’t being put able the place he can succeed, and Milan ran rings round him Wednesday as he accomplished underneath 80 % of his passes on the night time.

Even in a vacuum, he’s taking part in poorly. However nobody is realistically difficult Koke, a residing legend, for his place within the 11.

Luis Suárez has appeared in each recreation this season and is the staff’s high goalscorer with eight. As I anticipated, Simeone has been extra open to beginning Suárez on the bench in sure video games, although El Pistolero nonetheless will get the nod in Atlético’s marquee matchups.

His state of affairs is exclusive given his productiveness and killer intuition, however the vary of what Suárez can do on the pitch continues to slim. He’s a poor match when Atlético and its complement of secondary strikers desires to get out and run wild on the counterattack. I don’t suppose it’s a stretch to say Atleti’s greatest Champions League efficiency this season occurred whereas he watched from the bench.

Atletico Madrid v AC Milan: Group B - UEFA Champions League

Photograph by Denis Doyle/Getty Photos

Together with Kieran Trippier (injured), Marcos Llorente (now again from harm), Yannick Carrasco, Jan Oblak, and Stefan Savić, these are Simeone’s mainstays. All helped Atlético win its first league title in seven years a number of brief months in the past. And all of the aforementioned gamers besides Trippier have logged over 1,000 minutes already this season.

The low commonplace to Atlético’s play in 2021/22 has arguably come down to having too many unchallenged gamers rising complacent within the beginning lineup recreation after recreation. It’s onerous to see how there’s a wholesome, egalitarian competition for locations when Simeone is popping to these similar gamers whilst they’re delivering worse outcomes.

For instance, Matheus Cunha (197 minutes in all competitions) missed an opportunity from 4 yards on the finish of Wednesday’s loss. One wonders if he would have been sharper had he been given a begin or two slightly than 11 brief substitute appearances.

It seems Cunha’s Atlético profession is over earlier than it’s ever actually began, which might be too unhealthy. Simeone favors Ángel Correa over the proficient Brazilian, not to point out Antoine Griezmann — who has began every of his previous seven appearances. Griezmann’s return has even had a destructive impact on Correa, who hasn’t scored since August and hasn’t performed 90 minutes since Sept. 28, simply as his affect to Atleti’s assault was rising.

Renan Lodi (455 minutes) has appeared in all besides two video games between LaLiga and the Champions League, although he’s but to crack even the 500-minute barrier as December approaches. It appears Simeone has discounted the 23-year-old fully regardless of Atlético’s want for a dependable left-sided defender, and the participant’s growth has unmistakably stalled after a promising debut season in 2019/20.

Šime Vrsaljko (228 minutes) has demonstrated that he stays a succesful full-back after a number of knee accidents, and he’s garnered extra consideration recently. Nonetheless, he’s began just one recreation this season, and his return from the chilly is generally due to Trippier’s shoulder harm. If you need to know the way a lot Simeone actually trusts the Croatian, he benched him for transformed proper wing-back Llorente within the Milan recreation.

Thomas Lemar’s accidents ought to have opened the door for Geoffrey Kondogbia (623 minutes) to stake his place within the 11 as a associate for the often-overrun Koke. As a substitute, he’s performed simply 73 minutes throughout his previous 4 appearances as Simeone has inexplicably turned away from him. Maybe he’s nonetheless feeling the consequences of a muscle harm that price him a number of video games, however Kondogbia’s lack of sharpness was noticeable within the draw at Valencia and the loss to Milan — he was ineffective on and off the ball because the rojiblancos’ opponents mounted late rallies.

So whereas we are able to’t essentially predict how Atlético are going to play in a given fixture, we can with affordable confidence predict roughly 80 % of Simeone’s beginning 11 for every recreation. That is an issue requiring a right away answer.

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