Limp and lifeless - it's time for Atlético to let Simeone go
The fire has gone from Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid. The defeat to Real Madrid showed that a parting of the ways is needed.
After eight years, seven trophies, two Champions League finals and one shiny new stadium, the time has come for change at Atlético Madrid.
Saturday's 1-0 derby defeat to Real Madrid was only their fourth loss in LaLiga this season, but it leaves them 13 points behind the leaders and with no sign of that gap closing between now and May.
Madrid needed 56 minutes to break the deadlock through Karim Benzema, which is nothing new for Atleti – they remain redoubtable in defence, with only Los Blancos conceding fewer league goals this season – but their listlessness in attack is reaching crisis point.
Atleti have scored 22 goals in LaLiga, as many as fourth-bottom Real Mallorca. They have failed to score in four of their past five matches in all competitions, the exception being Angel Correa's goal in a truly disheartening Copa del Rey defeat to Cultural Leonesa. Most worrying of all is the fact they have won six times since October 29.
Atlético have lost their ferocity
The typical ferocity with which they have played under Simeone since December 2011 is now seemingly exclusive to the head coach himself, who was booked in the first half at the Santiago Bernabeu after one too many furious marches from his technical area.
In short, Atléti are bereft of confidence, insipid going forward and with little obvious idea how to arrest their poor form. They are fifth in LaLiga, out of the Copa, beaten on penalties in the Supercopa de Espana final by their city rivals and with the daunting task of Liverpool to come in the Champions League. They are falling alarmingly short of expectations, especially given a pre-season investment of nearly €244million.
Simeone has not been helped by injuries. Joao Felix, the €126m man who devastated Madrid in the 7-3 International Champions Cup win in August, sat out Saturday's defeat due to a muscle injury, although his recent form means he would have been fortunate to start anyway. Diego Costa, who scored four against Madrid in that resounding pre-season success, has not started a league match in three months. Alvaro Morata, their one fit centre-forward, went off at half-time with an apparent muscular problem.
But excuses are running out for Simeone. The man who has worked miracles at times in turning Atleti from second-class citizens in Spain's capital to persistent LaLiga and Champions League contenders looks like his magic has worn off. The feel around the Wanda Metropolitano, the sparkling Atletico venue designed to reflect their modern prowess on the pitch, is much the same as the atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Mauricio Pochettino's final months in charge: how will anything change unless there's a new man in the dugout?
A positive start from Atlético against Madrid
Atleti did at least start positively against Madrid and created the better chances in the first half. Angel Correa clipped the outside of the post and Vitolo brought a smart save from Thibaut Courtois from inside the box. That, though, was their only shot on target.
At half-time, Zinedine Zidane abandoned his plan to midfielder Atlético to death, bringing on Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior. One timely pass from the Brazilian allowed Ferland Mendy to set up Benzema for the winner 56 minutes in.
Atleti's best attempt at a comeback was a solitary wayward shot from Thomas Partey with 20 minutes left – irrefutable evidence of the team's stagnation under Simeone. "Stay, Cholo!" came the ironic taunt from the home fans. How much longer will the Atleti faithful sing the same thing and mean it?
His legacy at the club is secure, but his future, and that of Atléti, is weakened with every passing miserable 90 minutes. A parting of the ways, now or before next season at least, might be best for all concerned.
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