You only get one chance at a first impression in life, which is why it’s so important to make sure you get it right. This also rings true in the case of sports. Look at Michael Phelps in the Olympics over the last couple of weeks. Despite the knowledge and confidence that even a half effort would guarantee his place in the finals, Phelps refused to relax. He competed as he meant to go on, finishing in the top 2 in any semi-final he took part in. After that, he rested up and took home countless medals in the final competitions. For Phelps, it was his way of laying down the marker for what he intended to do next. For Atletico, the opportunity to make a statement for the season ahead was missed with a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to newly promoted Alaves.
It’s easy to write off Atleti, complain about everything that went wrong during the match and lose hope for the season ahead. Many, if not all, football fans watch with emotion and rarely involve logic when a result doesn’t go their team’s way. And two dropped points to a team expected to battle in and around the relegation zone for the majority of the season is the sort of result that brings about these sort of overreactions. However, while remembering that there’s still 37 games left in the league, it’s just as difficult to ignore the situation Atletico already find themselves in.
The opening week of the season gave los Rojiblancos, what looked to have been, an easy enough challenge to handle. What made it all the sweeter was that title rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona both faced teams who had to ability to pull of an upset. A Real Betis side, who caused Barca problems when they faced off back in April of last year, were never going to be favoured against the Champions but they had managed to keep themselves in the game until the closing stages of half time. For Real, a trip to Sociedad has caused them headaches in the past and it was expected to be no different for the Champions League winners this time around. If any of the three title challengers were going to drop points, Atleti were certainly looking the least likely.
A last minute equaliser from Alaves proved this wasn’t the case. It was a shot from outside the box which Jan Oblak saves 9 times out of 10. But this was that one time that the ball flew past his outstretched hand and brought Atleti back down to earth. The club would not have expected to find themselves behind the ‘Big Two’ after the first weekend of the season, and that the fixtures only get tougher from here on out won’t do much to comfort them. Waiting and wishing for Real and Barcelona to drop points can be exhausting. Two teams, blessed with talent that makes every other club in Europe envious of the superstar riches they boast, who often find themselves competing against each other will be more than happy to have moved ahead of Diego Simeone’s hard-working team so early in the campaign.
It happens so rarely, that when both teams drop points, there’s an inquest at the clubs. ‘Crisis’ is a word often thrown around by the media, who live on every happening inside the headquarters of the two giants. They pride themselves on winning and anything but three points every weekend is considered a travesty. Had Real and Barca been handed a home fixture to Alaves to kick off their season, a 1-1 result would have sent shock waves throughout the club. For Atleti, the team still has some way to go before that winning culture is instilled. They’re close, far closer than they have been for the last 40 years, but something is missing. The ability to grind out a 1-0 win has been a blueprint for Simeone's side in the past, which made the late equaliser that more shocking.
Of course, the absence of Antoine Griezmann left a big hole in Atleti’s gameplan offensively. The first weekend of the season is always tricky to negotiate as the squad’s fitness is yet to reach peak level. Atletico have also brought in a number of new acquisitions, such as Nico Gaitan, and they need to be allowed some time before they become comfortable with their new teammates. It’s too early to start ringing the alarm bells and calling for wholesale changes. But there’s no hiding the disappointment . Atletico have fallen behind the leading pack after just the first game of the season. Thankfully, there’s 37 more to play.