Diego Simeone asks a lot of his players and being part of a team managed by Cholo can push players to the peak of their mental and physical capacity. Atletico fans have been left sweating over the availability of some of their more important players as a trip to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona in the Champions League looms large over the squad.
There are more than 50 games per season when you count La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey - provided you don't crap out of the latter two in the earliest stages. Simeone does not believe in rotation for the sake of rotation and his entire team selection is based on meritocracy, loyalty and consistency. While that has it's benefits, as we have seen with Atletico's defensive record, as the season rolls on, Atletico are prone to more 'off-days' and become stretched when injury hits. Here's a recap of some of the important injuries that have confronted Atletico since the arrival of Cholo at this juncture of the campaign.
Atletico's first full season under Simeone ended with a European Supercup and a Copa del Rey final victory over Real Madrid. After March, they had three muscular injuries to Tiago Mendes, Mario Suarez and Thibaut Courtois. They also had non-muscular injuries to Diego Costa, Arda Turan and Cristian Rodriguez.
Atletico were knocked out of the Europa League by Ruben Kazan by February but their excellent run in the Copa del Rey and their third place finish was enough to see a few muscular injuries late on in the season. This trend appears to be continuing.
In a year that Atletico did the impossible, they were faced with similar issues with Diego Costa and Arda Turan suffering muscular injuries prior to the second leg 1-0 victory over Barcelona. Costa would miss another important game, a 1-1 draw with Malaga on the penultimate day of the season, which could have sealed the title for them had they won, and was taken off after 16 minutes during the final game of the season against Barcelona.
Atletico would also lose Jose Sosa, Cristian Rodriguez and David Villa between March and May and would also have three recurrences of the same muscular injuries.
Atleti's season hung in the balance until the very last day based on Valencia's valiant fight for third place but Atletico had long been knocked out of the Champions League at that point. They would suffer important muscular injuries in March and April to Tiago Mendes (twice), Miguel Ángel Moyà, Diego Godin and Mario Suarez.
It is hard to point a finger at Simeone as his style of play has turned Atletico into a European powerhouse. The infamous Profe Ortega takes care of all the physical work and is a man who Simeone rates highly. It is important, however, to add a little more rotation before and after the winter break. While it goes against Simeone's philosophy of 'Partido a Partido', perhaps highlighting less important games and prioritising the Champions League and La Liga at certain stages might help Atleti remain fitter and more capable of the workload later in the season also.
Saul Niguez, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Lucas Hernandez also injured themselves playing for their countries recently and while it would be unfair to suggest the club withdraw their players from these games, perhaps a limit on friendlies and less important games earlier in the season might prevent the muscular injuries from occurring later in the season.
Atletico have eight games left in La Liga and, at least, two in the Champions League. They will have to finish strong in order to finish second and stave off a late push from Real Madrid in a battle for bragging rights in Madrid's capital. They will need a full squad to make sure they finish the job.