This iteration of Atletico Madrid - an evolved version with a more open and expansive style - is far from a finished product. Sevilla implied this two weeks ago and Real Sociedad confirmed it Saturday.
Sociedad hosted Atletico and beat Diego Simeone’s team at Anoeta for the second time in three years. The result wasn’t really in doubt after Carlos Vela scored the first of two well-taken penalties. Atleti looked tired, frustrated, listless, bereft of ideas. A return of six wins from 11 LaLiga games is pretty poor and there is a strong chance that los colchoneros will be in fifth place and six points adrift of leaders Real Madrid by the end of the day Sunday.
The tranisition to this new Atletico has not come without kinks to excise. The team’s league form has been wobbly, seeing brilliant results (4-0 at Celta Vigo, 5-0 vs. Sporting Gijon, 7-1 vs. Granada) and lackluster ones (0-0 at Leganes, 0-1 at Sevilla, 0-2 at Sociedad). Saul still has not found form this term; this is an issue now. Angel Correa is sensational...or awful, depends on the day. Fernando Torres is either heavily involved or invisible. Kevin Gameiro has been very good for the most part, but Simeone seems to have a quick hook with him. For a team on pace to rack up 86 goals with a difference of nearly 60, these are things that aren’t quite right.
What’s most concerning, though, are the recent defensive lapses that have started to creep in and cost the team points. An error led to Sevilla’s goal and subsequent win two weeks ago. An error let Malaga back in it at the Calderon last week. Two penalties on Saturday (including the first one Gabi has ever conceded) led to two goals. AS editor Alfredo Relano wrote last week about Simeone solving the “short blanket problem” at Atletico this season; the past three weeks of play shows that that problem - playing a more offensive style while maintaining that impenetrable defensive structure - is not solved just yet.
Now, it is worth recognizing that some of these consistency problems stem from the very tough slate Atletico were handed. In the first 11 weeks, Atleti played at Celta, at Barcelona, at Valencia, at Sevilla and at Sociedad - with trips to Osasuna and Villarreal upcoming. This is a gauntlet, and many teams would be hard-pressed to accrue more than Atleti’s seven points over those five games. All of these teams visit the Calderon in 2017, giving Simeone’s men an opportunity to make up the ground that has been lost thus far.
But a more prepared Atleti must take the field in the Madrid derby on Nov. 19. As Sociedad showed on Saturday, work still must be done.