Saturday, May 21

Atletico Madrid: Why it’s going wrong for Diego Simeone’s ‘cowardly’ LaLiga champions

PETE JENSON: What’s going wrong at ‘cowardly Atletico Madrid’? Diego Simeone can’t help but set up as the underdogs, the squad has glaring weaknesses, and his side are now defensively frail

  • A ‘cowardly Atletico Madrid’ was how Diego Simeone’s side were described 
  • That will hurt the Argentine coach and he will argue they were being cautious 
  • They no longer have it in own hands to make last-16 draw after AC Milan defeat 
  • Sportsmail looks at the reasons why it’s going wrong for the Spanish champions 


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A ‘cowardly Atletico Madrid‘ was how Diego Simeone‘s side were described on Spanish radio after their 1-0 defeat by AC Milan at the Wanda Metropolitano. 

That will hurt the Argentine coach and he will argue they were being cautious not cowardly. 

Either way trying to hold on to a 0-0 draw and then losing 1-0 means they no longer have it in their own hands to make the December 13 draw for the last 16. 

Here, Sportsmail looks at five reasons why it’s going wrong for the Spanish champions this season.

Sportsmail looks at why it's going wrong for Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid this season

Sportsmail looks at why it's going wrong for Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid this season

Sportsmail looks at why it’s going wrong for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid this season

Too much handbrake and not enough throttle 

Simeone has a squad full of attacking talent but old habits die hard and there is a tendency to try to close games down or settle for draws when the situation allows. Against Milan he took off Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann and the signal was clear: protect what we have. 

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There are too many games when Simone sets up his team as if they were plucky underdogs. He played something close to a back six last season at home to Chelsea.

Even when the team is full of attacking players they don’t play that way. There was plenty of flair on the pitch on Wednesday night but too often there was a huge gap between an isolated Suarez and the rest of the team. 

If Atletico could defend it would make more sense but that is no longer the case.

He has a squad full of attacking talent, including Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, but old habits die hard and there is a tendency to try to close games down or settle for draws

He has a squad full of attacking talent, including Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, but old habits die hard and there is a tendency to try to close games down or settle for draws

He has a squad full of attacking talent, including Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, but old habits die hard and there is a tendency to try to close games down or settle for draws

Defensive frailty   

Atletico have let in more goals in all competitions this season than games played (20 in 18) – something previously unthinkable under Simeone. 

There was lots of talk at the start of the season about how they had the best squad in Spain but on closer inspection that was always a dubious claim. 

Simeone likes to play three centre-backs (although he didn’t start that way on Wednesday night) and he only has four to pick from. As well as lacking the quantity they lack the quality. 

Stefan Savic was brilliant last season and when he’s properly fit Jose Gimenez is one of LaLiga’s best too but neither have been at their level this season and Mario Hermoso and Felipe are, especially in the case of the Brazilian, another notch down in terms of quality.

Lack of ideas in attack 

They have not won a single game at home in the Champions League group stage for the first time under Simeone and there is a sense that despite the quality on the pitch they lack the tactical tools to break opposition teams down. This doesn’t only happen in Europe. 

At the weekend they put 40 crosses into the box but were playing with only Griezmann through the middle and against an Osasuna side that are strong in the air.

With the talent he now has available in Thomas Lemar, Marcos Llorente and Yannick Carrasco – three of the best attacking midfielders in Europe – there has to be better ways to try to break down the opposition than just getting the ball wide and slinging in crosses, often from deep.

Simeone also has Thomas Lemar (lefgt), Joao Felix (second left) and Yannick Carrasco (fourth left) to call on in attack but Atletico seem to lack the tactical tools to hurt the opposition

Simeone also has Thomas Lemar (lefgt), Joao Felix (second left) and Yannick Carrasco (fourth left) to call on in attack but Atletico seem to lack the tactical tools to hurt the opposition

Simeone also has Thomas Lemar (lefgt), Joao Felix (second left) and Yannick Carrasco (fourth left) to call on in attack but Atletico seem to lack the tactical tools to hurt the opposition

Red cards and injuries

Against Liverpool they went down to 10 men in both games. That meant they were without the suspended Griezmann at Anfield. 

On Wednesday night they missed the injured pair Joao Felix and Kieran Trippier. The latter in particular is missed because a lack of alternatives tend to mean Marcos Llorente drops back and plays as a wing-back (or even a full-back), which usually leaves him far from the areas of the pitch where he does most damage.

Factor Vicente Calderon  

The old stadium on the banks of the river Manzanares used to shake with the noise created by the home supporters. It was a horrible place for away teams to visit. 

The new out-of-town Wanda Metropolitano arena is a far more sanitised space and on nights like Wednesday when the team aren’t at it, it becomes too nice a place for the visiting side to play in. 

Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano is a far more sanitised space on nights like Wednesday evening

Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano is a far more sanitised space on nights like Wednesday evening

Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano is a far more sanitised space on nights like Wednesday evening

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