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Progress or papering over the cracks?

In recent weeks, Atlético Madrid has flattered to deceive, without dominating games, they’ve picked up vital points, but without looking devastatingly brilliant in the process.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Betis Balompie - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

After a difficult festive period, Atlético Madrid find themselves, again, in a state of flux regarding their style of play. Recent weeks have seen a return to the successful defensive style for which Diego Simeone is known, but surrounded by lackluster performances. Simeone has been adamant that results are all that matter and so long as the team continues to pick up points, the style shouldn’t be a point of contention.

However, with low scoring matches, and games that the opposition could have gotten something from if there was better finishing involved. While this has thankfully not been the case, it does not make for comfortable viewing for the average fan. If the defense was sturdier than it has shown to be this season, perhaps there would be more confidence in grinding out 1-0 wins, but there are defensive errors in this team.

Another issue with this is in regards to the lineups that have been put out by Cholo, which have been frequently unbalanced. Either Saúl or Koke have frequently found themselves on the wing this season, despite both being far more effective as central midfielders, which does cause concern for their long term development, not getting enough time in their preferred positions.

The attack in a general sense this season has also been somewhat concerning, with production from the attacking players being small. Griezmann does still lead the team in goals (La Liga) scored with 7, despite a very lengthy dry spell, and Carrasco just behind with 6, despite an injury layoff. Gameiro and Griezmann have looked effective as a strike duo, but often can appear isolated in this team.

Nico Gaitán has not yet had his desired impact, though in recent weeks his performances have started to improve, a good sign for the coming weeks. Koke has been quite good of late, being instrumental in many of Atleti’s attacking moves and offensive production, but has scored just one La Liga goal, level with Tiago and Godin.

Playing in Simeone’s preferred system works well if the strikers/attacking players are consistently providing goals, like Diego Costa in the title-winning season, but without it, disappointing draws are inevitable. Antoine Griezmann is undoubtedly world class, but hasn’t been devastatingly clinical with his goal scoring this season, though that could all change very quickly.

Should Atleti improve their goal scoring output in this second half of the season, all will be well, and there is visible improvement from players like Gaitán and Ángel Correa, but consistency is key. When the more open style earlier in the season was employed, it was extremely successful in boosting goals scored for the club, far more than we have seen now with a return to the old style.

If this trend does continue with attacking players not providing enough, that open, attacking style, may see a return, but until Cholismo is clearly broken, its unlikely it will be fixed.