Atlético de Madrid can sleep as leaders today, Friday, even having one game less than Real Madrid, Barcelona and Girona. The solvency of the rojiblancos in this first third of the league is such that they will be at the top if they win at the UD Las Palmas in Gran Canaria (9:00 p.m.). It is the match that opens matchday 12 in LaLiga.
Simeone: “Life is reinventing yourself”
What has happened for Simeone’s team to become a candidate for the title? To begin with, the ‘de-scholization’ of the team. The Argentine coach summed it up with a smile on his face in the Metropolitano press room after the victory against Alavés. “I leave you to continue giving your opinion, you are very capable of appreciating everything and we continue in our way of improving, growing and looking for better situations so that the team can continue competing and, above all, reinventing ourselves, because I believe that life goes that way. For continually reinventing oneself.”
And the reality is that Simeone has reinvented himself. Something happened on the board after the break at the World Cup in Qatar. On November 9, 2022, Atlético suffered a defeat in Mallorca (1-0) with a goal from Muriqi in a match in which the ‘Cholo’ lined up a 4-4-2 with the following eleven: Oblak; Nahuel, Savic, Felipe, Reinildo; Marcos Llorente, De Paul, Witsel, Carrasco; Griezmann and Morata.
The red and whites fell out of the Champions League positions with that defeat before the World Cup break that put the epilogue to a rosary of disappointments: Bruges, Leverkusen, Cádiz, Oporto, Espanyol… Nahuel was, at that time, a usual suspect and that afternoon he even debuted as a red and white Sergio Reguilon. Symptom of the drift of the team that in the 14 League games that had been played, had lost and drawn as many games as it had won.
But something happened during those 53 days of hiatus. Simeone turned his whiteboard around looking for solutions. He December 29th Athletic He played a League match again, against Elche, and he did so with two relevant new features. First, the tactical change, to a defense with three center backs and long wingers; and the second the appearance of Pablo Barrios as a pivot in the starting eleven. Two crucial decisions to understand this renewed Atlético that is emerging as a candidate to fight for the League.
‘El Cholo’ placed Giménez, Savic and Hermoso at the back, giving the entire band to Carrasco and Llorente. In the middle he parked the idea of two defensive pivots to alternate a specialist like Kondgobia with a good-footed player like Barrios. And up top he placed Morata with Joao Félix nearby and Griezmann free behind. More association, more talent and more coming from behind. That was the proposal that Simeone put together to close 2022 and open 2023. The result, a solvent and fun victory against Elche (2-0).
System change: from 4-4-2 to 5-3-2 or 3-5-2
That proposal is here to stay and the 5-3-2, which in attack and in the Metropolitano is a 3-5-2, and even a 3-4-3 with the full-backs converted into wingers, has established itself on the board. Simeone giving stability to the team. Today, Atlético is the fourth highest scoring team in Europe’s major leagues with 72 goals, which puts it on par with Guardiola’s Champions League champion Manchester City, only behind Bayern Munich (77) and Borussia Dortmund (78). Or what is the same, above Real Madrid and Barcelona.
This trend has increased with the passage of 2023 and the rojiblancos, after 11 games of this season, are the highest scoring team in the League, tied with Girona, with 25 goals, although the colchoneros have one less game. Furthermore, Simeone’s men have only conceded nine goals, compared to thirteen for the Catalans.
Atlético has put aside that metallic profile that it had to display more fluid football and proof of this is that Of the eight victories in this League, none were 1-0. Granada (3-1), Rayo (0-7), Real Madrid (3-1), Cádiz (3-2), Osasuna (0-2), Real Sociedad (2-1), Celta (0-3) , Alavés (2-1)…
Simeone looks more at the opposing goal, without forgetting, of course, his own because that is in his nature. It is no coincidence that the Argentine’s Atlético had added in 12 years (since 2012), the same defeats at home in the League (20), as the team at the Calderón between 2008 and 2011.
Barrios, Riquelme, Lino…
That “reinvention” that Simeone spoke about in the press room has led him to bet on players like Pablo Barrios, ‘Roro’ Riquelme, Samuel Lino or for unleashing a Nahuel Molina, who He came back as another from the Qatar World Cup. He also recovered the best Saúl, who has returned to the area and now has five assists… But where the leap in quality has been most noticeable is in attack.
Griezmann has delayed his position to have more weight in the game, in a role increasingly similar to the one he has in France, 10, of Atlético’s Messi. And above a Alvaro Morata to whom the national team armband has given him confidence that translates into goals: nine with Atlético and four more with Spain. The man from Madrid seems to have freed himself and that has caused a growth in his self-esteem and a maturity that has generated that qualitative leap so celebrated by Simeone.
All of this has generated a winning routine in this Atlético, especially in the Metropolitano, which has made it accumulate a streak of 15 consecutive victories in its field (14 in the League and one in the Champions League), chain six victories with 15 goals in favor and four in against and now have nine games without knowing defeat. Those 53 days of the Qatar World Cup break allowed Simeone to illuminate the ‘Cholo-taka’ of this Atlético that now has fun and wins. With ‘Pupas’ banished, now even Sabina’s ‘ways of suffering’ are unnecessary.