For Atlético Madrid this season, good league form has been difficult to come by, and despite a disappointing exit of the Copa del Rey, manager Diego Simeone seems to believe he’s recaptured “his” Atleti. And despite winning all their league games in February so far, Atleti will be put to the test with a tough run of fixtures.
First they face Bayer Leverkusen in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, who are a well-coached side, but have fallen short of expectations so far in the Bundesliga. Directly following that match, Atlético Madrid face Barcelona for the last time at the Vincente Calderón, despite it not being the last match Barcelona will play in Atleti’s historic stadium.
The improvements in the side in recent weeks have been impressive, if a bit suspect in defense. Diego Godin’s injury has not helped matters, leaving Stefan Savic and Lucas Hernandez as replacements, with Jose Gimenez on the way back from an injury as well. In the last two La Liga games, against Celta Vigo and Sporting Gijon respectively, both opponents have had good chances to score, which has been concerning.
Key players in attack however have picked up form despite it being missing for much of the season. Fernando Torres has played well of late, despite missing a penalty against Celta, as have Kevin Gameiro and Yannick Carrasco. The world-class form of Antoine Griezmann has still yet to resurface, but it would be foolish to bet against Antoine returning to his best in the near future.
At this point, the shape of the team still remains an issue, with Simeone finding difficulty incorporating Saúl and Koke into the team simultaneously. Both are quality, but in the same position, and not as a pairing. When one of them plays out of position on the wing, the full back on that side has to support basically the entire match, as the both of them won’t be on the wing often, looking to come inside more.
Griezmann, as usual drops deeper to create attacks, which makes his best partner Fernando Torres to have someone to play off of when the team moves forward. Carrasco, too, is often one of the most advanced players in matches currently for Atleti. If a balance can be struck with this imbalanced and relatively small squad, it can prove to be a good building block for next season.
To have scored 9 goals in their last three La Liga matches is extremely encouraging for the forward thinking players for Atleti. By having a strong second half of the season, Atleti could still end the season with somewhat of a good feeling, especially with a prolonged Champions League campaign.
Even without the hope of finishing at the summit of La Liga this year, the top four race has begun to look better and better for Atleti over the last few weeks. Real Sociedad and Villarreal have fallen off the pace for the Champions League spots, and even high-flying Sevilla have looked vulnerable recently as well.
Following the seemingly billionth Barcelona match of the season, Atleti have a run of three fixtures against clubs in the lower half of the table, but only one is at home, against Valencia. And after those matches is the second leg against Bayer, followed by a hugely important match against Sevilla at home. Should the club put a good run of results together in these matches, they can generate a ton of momentum heading towards the business end of the season.