Punch­less Atletico face Cham­pi­ons League knock­out

Kuwait Times - - Sports -

MADRID: Find­ing them­selves against the ropes, Atletico Madrid have to come out swing­ing and fi­nally start land­ing punches to keep their Cham­pi­ons League dreams alive when Azer­bai­jani cham­pi­ons Qarabag visit the shiny new Wanda Metropoli­tano to­day.

The move to the 68,000 ca­pac­ity sta­dium, which will host next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal, was seen as con­fir­ma­tion of Atletico’s place among the Euro­pean elite.

In­spired by coach Diego Sime­one, Atletico have twice reached the fi­nal, as well as the semis and quar­ters in the Cham­pi­ons League over the past four sea­sons - only to fall to cross city ri­vals Real Madrid on ev­ery oc­ca­sion. On top of a 310 mil­lion euro ($360 mil­lion) out­lay on their new home, Atletico made a huge eco­nomic ef­fort to make their tran­si­tion from the Vi­cente Calderon as smooth as pos­si­ble de­spite a FIFA ban on reg­is­ter­ing new play­ers.

Sime­one and key fig­ures such as An­toine Griez­mann, Saul Niguez and Koke were handed lu­cra­tive new con­tracts. Diego Costa also re­joined the club for a re­ported club record 55 mil­lion eu­ros ($64.8 mil­lion) from Chelsea, but he and Atletico’s other major re­cruit Vi­tolo can’t fea­ture un­til Jan­uary.

How­ever, the gam­ble that Costa and Vi­tolo would pro­vide the perfect boost to Atletico’s Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign come the new year could back­fire spec­tac­u­larly as Sime­one’s men have taken a pal­try two points from their open­ing three Group C games. Costa’s old club Chelsea lead the way on seven points, closely fol­lowed by Roma on five.

GOAL-SHY GRIEZ­MANN Atletico’s prob­lem is painstak­ingly ob­vi­ous, they can’t score goals. Griez­mann’s penalty in 2-1 home de­feat to Chelsea last month is their only Cham­pi­ons League goal to date and they have man­aged just eight in their last eight La Liga games to fall eight points off the top. “It’s the same thing as al­ways,” Saul con­fessed after a 1-1 draw against third-tier Elche in the Copa del Rey. “That lack of goals makes us anx­ious and we end up suf­fer­ing.”

Top scorer for the past three sea­sons, Griez­mann’s form has fal­tered with just three goals 11 matches. How­ever, Sime­one in­sisted the French­man has got Atletico into a “bad habit” of solv­ing the team’s at­tack­ing prob­lems sin­gle-hand­edly for too long.

Lu­ciano Vi­etto, Fer­nando Tor­res and Kevin Gameiro have all been handed their op­por­tu­nity to part­ner Griez­mann in at­tack and failed when pre­sented chances in front of goal. Some have also pointed the fin­ger at Sime­one’s de­fen­sive tac­tics as Atletico have been pun­ished for sit­ting back after tak­ing the lead against Chelsea, Barcelona and in draw­ing 1-1 against Villarreal on Satur­day.

“Sime­one isn’t the one miss­ing the chances,” wrote for­mer Atletico favourite Paulo Futre in sports daily Marca on Sun­day in de­fence of the Ar­gen­tine.

Griez­mann, Yan­nick Car­rasco and Tor­res all missed huge op­por­tu­ni­ties as Qarabag se­cured their first ever Cham­pi­ons League point in Baku two weeks ago.

“Now we have a fi­nal here at home,” said Atletico’s top scorer An­gel Cor­rea, his side’s top scorer with a mea­gre four goals this sea­son. “We need to be calm be­cause the only thing we lack is luck, we are cre­at­ing the chances.”—AFP

MADRID: Atletico Madrid’s Slove­nian goal­keeper Jan Oblak catches a ball dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion at the Vi­cente Calderon Sta­dium in Madrid yes­ter­day on the eve of the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League group C. —AFP

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