Six months won’t define a career, one way or another. Atletico have enough credibility and respect in the bank that they could struggle through the end of the season and still come out with reason to be optimistic for the year ahead such are the strides they have made in recent years. That is not what this article is about either. This is simply an effort to identify players who have either stagnated or regressed in the last six months and have questions marks lingering over them, pretty strictly from an Atletico Madrid standpoint. So let’s get to it:
Oh, Antoine! I guess it’s all fun and games until your star player keeps talking about moving away from your club during a particularly bad run of results - linking himself with the MLS, Manchester United, PSG and Arsenal. I understand that judging a player for being outspoken can often be a reflection of the person criticising and in an age where we are crying out for more “characters”, it is a good thing. I also don’t subscribe to the Phil Neville keep your mouth shut philosophy.
Having said all that, there is a balance and it feels like Griezmann has almost upped the ante in interviews while his performances on the field have suffered majestically. Griezmann will get a big move away and this is more about his legacy with Atletico Madrid than his career on a whole. He does not, I’m sure, want to leave the Vicente Calderon in the form he is currently in. He is in the middle of his longest dry-spell in front of goal with the club and needs to improve if Atletico are to improve next year.
And aside from all that, if Manchester United continue to look at another three months of a no-confidence, couldn’t-hit-a-barn-door-with-a-banjo Antoine Griezmann, who says they even remain in the hunt for him? This football world is a fickle one and Griezmann might not want to test the bigger clubs as to how much they rate him.
From a fan’s point of view, we just want to see the best of Griezmann if it turns out to be his last few months in an Atletico shirt.
The verdict is out on Josema. He will either be world class or turn into a Uruguayan Phil Jones. And nobody wants to be a Uruguayan Phil Jones. He is currently in the middle of his formative years as a defender and if he does not eradicate his bad habits, they will follow him around for the remainder of his career. Get typecast as an erratic central defender, and you will be one for as long as you lace up your boots. Take a look at Stefan Savic (below, although that is sometimes justified).
Speaking of Savic, Gimenez has a living, breathing example of a player who was labelled as erratic during his spell at Manchester City and regardless of how well he did at Fiorentina or for Atletico, that was the perception and sometimes perception is reality. Luckily for Savic, he was given a chance to redeem himself and got his big move to City before that. For Gimenez, he has to avoid those pitfalls with every fibre of his physique.
The curious case of Koke. There is little doubting his ability, actually, there is no doubting his ability. It’s his subservient nature that could be his undoing. That is not to say that him listening to Diego Simeone is a bad thing but the true world class figures do not accept peripheral roles. While not condoning the way, let’s say, Wayne Rooney went about it when he was shunted to the wide position, but a player like Lionel Messi who simple can not be moved out of a central role because of how good he is in it.
Koke needs to grab the next six months by the neck and make that central midfield position his own, without question. He was on the brink of it before that Real Madrid loss when the game completely passed him by and Simeone was forced to push him out wide again. Tactics have a lot to do with it but Koke needs to be more assertive, more talismanic from a creative standpoint and add more goals and assists to his game in order to become the Andres Iniesta-like midfielder we all want him to become.
Another player in a similar boat to Koke, Saul is a player who has stagnated with only sporadic sights of his potential - check out his goal against Las Palmas just last week. Again, much of this comes down to tactics but at what point was Paul Pogba at the behest of tactics? Sure, he might have been moved around but was rarely, if ever dropped, when the tactics were changed.
Saul has the ability to become an undroppable player in Atletico’s team but he has been sacrificed now on several occasions. After an impressive 90 minutes against Las Palmas, which were preceded with three substitute performances, Saul needs to decide that every week is an on-week as opposed to oscillating between hot and cold, peripheral figure to central figure. At that point, he will become world class.
My belief that Stefan Savic was emerging as a top class centre-back may seem a little bit premature now, but believe me, there was a spell in the first half of the season that he was building something special with Diego Godin. Even Diego Simeone believed so, as he went with Savic in all five of Atletico’s early league games and Jose Gimenez was pushed to one side.
Savic’s arrival did not break any transfer records but he was not cheap and will need to take any chance he can get in the second half of the season or fear being swallowed up by an emerging cast of top class defenders at Atletico including Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez.
This one feels a little ‘what have you done for me lately?’ and I don’t want this to look like a reactionary piece but Diego Simeone has a huge job on his hands to limit the damage such a relatively poor start to the year has caused.
Jose Mourinho was lambasted for a perceived drop in performance by his teams in his third year. Is Diego Simeone currently fighting against a similar currant with a squad that he has drained every drop of potential out of? It is up to him to prove that particular narrative wrong and re-invent his own tactics, or at least refresh them, and make sure that this world class squad does themselves justice in the next six months.