How did Atletico Madrid lose their magic?
THESE are definitely not the best of times to be an Atletico Madrid fan, even though they are still playing in the Champions League and have recently moved to their new stadium this season. The reason is that the team has terrible offensive efficiency, which has brought frustrating results both in La Liga and the Champions Leagues.
Atletico has not been able to score more than two goals in each of their last seven games, which included draws with Qarabağ, Elche and Leganes. These results have put the team’s clear downfall on display. They are almost out of the Champions League and a full eight points away from La Liga leaders Barcelona. The question is what happened to the once almighty Atletico Madrid that was, for the last five years, one of the best teams in Europe.
First of all, I almost always advocate that a settled, sophisticated strategy is the key for longterm success and Atletico Madrid owes their glory days to their coach Diego Simeone’s insistence on their defensive strategy. Nevertheless, in a Nietzschean sense, strategies as concepts are historical beings which are in constant conflict. A strategy that is perfect in a certain context for one team isn’t always suitable for another, and that is what happened to Atletico. Their opponents have become familiarized with their strategy and more importantly Diego Simeone has not developed his game since he took the reins. Throughout the years, their game has become a one-sided, predictable and dull one, which is what we are watching right now.
However, their transfer ban and relatively limited squad must also be noted in their worsening form. Simeone could not replace old players with fresh faces and their only alternative on the bench is a 33-year-old Fernando Torres. This issue does not hurt them much when Antoine Griezmann takes the offensive responsibility or Saul Niguez and Yannick Carrasco contribute with their individual talent.
Then, and only then, is Atletico able to compensate their offensive dullness with their defensive excellence. They sit deep in their half and do not let their opponents come to inside their penalty box. Nevertheless, when their opponents let Atletico take the initiative, Simeone’s team were left clueless and this has happened a lot this season. Without an offensive opponent, Atletico has no idea how to create time and space for Griez- mann to score.
The solution is, I am afraid, a painful one which will require Atletico to transform their game. Their strategy ruled football for some time, but as it happens to almost all strategies; it has been debunked by the dynamic historical process. If I was Diego Simeone, I would use this period to create a new strategy with a new squad which would not demand huge transfers. For sure, this would mean that Atletico can lose this season and probably next season too, but eventually they would return much stronger.
Although their current form still holds them among the best in Europe, it is almost certain that they will not be able to hold on for much longer. Siemone must remember that his courage to create a new strategy led to his success, and new successes require new strategies.