On Saturday, Atlético Madrid faced one of their toughest mental tests of the season, off the back of some very bad form, in particular the Villarreal match.
After the horror show at El Madrigal, it was always unlikely that Tiago would start against Las Palmas. The direct replacement would be either Saúl or Koke, and in this game, both started, but Saúl tended to operate more centrally, with Koke on the right. However, these two players rotating in and out from the wing to the center works far better than it does with Tiago, as both Saúl and Koke can operate effectively on the wing and centrally.
Ironically, it was without Tiago-Gabi as the double pivot that brought about the closest representation of the Simeone title winning teams, and the football Atlético have been expected to play in recent years. And without Tiago and Gabi, the team functioned better, at least for this match, and was able to keep a clean sheet and score enough goals to take all three points.
It’s been a poor season for many Atlético players, but one of the bigger disappointments of the year so far was Saúl, coming off a wonderful 2015/16, he would have been expected to kick on more than he has to this point. One can only hope that this Las Palmas game will be the moment that kick starts a good second half of the season for the academy graduate. Certainly contributing fantastic goals, like the one at the weekend against Las Palmas, will go a long way in terms of his selection in the side.
And Las Palmas were and are not a bad team, despite recent draws to newly promoted teams; they were red hot at the start of the season. They’ve caused teams issues, and it was no easy task for Atleti to win this game. The issue for the Canary Island side was that they came up against an Atlético at its lowest point, in dire need of three points. Thankfully, Atleti could deliver without much drama.
A quick shoutout should also go to Sime Vrsaljko, who put in a great performance, winning take-ons, as well as half his tackles, and contributing some vital interceptions. At the moment this Atleti squad is very thin, and to have players like Sime contribute valuable minutes is vital for any kind of success this season.
There has been pressure on the manager and players to have an identity this season, whether it’s the old Simeone style of defend first, worry about scoring later Cholismo, or the more free flowing attacking style seen earlier in the season. Either way, both can be successful, the team just needs to commit to one and stick to it for a few weeks. Following what should be a straightforward match against Guijuelo, Atleti will resume their La Liga campaign against Eibar to discern whether any progress has been made.