So far this season, Sevilla have occupied the role filled in recent years by Atlético, the third team pushing for the Spanish championship, and have done so in style, while Atleti have failed to consistently perform, until now. It seems as if the two clubs have almost switched in terms of achievement in recent weeks, with Sevilla crashing out of the Champions League, and faltering massively in league form, effectively ruling them out of a title challenge. Atleti, meanwhile, have seemingly gelled as a squad, with new and old players finding their roles within the team and performing to the standard expected of them.
Against Sevilla on Sunday, Atlético Madrid showed their recent uptake in form following the narrow loss to Barcelona was no fluke, dismantling them in classic style. A header from Diego Godín that may be one of the easier goals he’s scored in recent memories, as he was totally unmarked from the free kick, leaving Sergio Rico no chance. Atleti again punished the Andalusians from a free kick, making it 2-0 through an absolute rocket from Antoine Griezmann, which by using rudimentary math was travelling somewhere in the region of 46 miles per hour, or 21 meters a second. Finally, Koke rounded the match off through a deflected save from Sergio Rico off of a marauding Juanfran shot. Despite conceding, a wholly wonderful performance that not only allowed Atleti to gain ground on third place, but also to take the all important head to head advantage, having lost the first meeting 1-0.
And though it seems that the title will be decided between Barcelona or Real Madrid, Aleti performing well, and hopefully finishing the season strong will not only do wonders for the morale of the players and fans, but also for another potential Champions League push. This time without any real chance of a league title, the main focus will be the prestigious European competition, as the rojiblancos desperately seek the elusive Champions League trophy.
“Every time the Champions League anthem is played, I feel pain,” Simeone said. “Our strength is to fight and conquer (the Champions League).”
All who hold Atleti in their hearts after the two finals in Lisbon and Milan feels the pain Simeone speaks of, and though many teams would crumble after such just one disappointment that Atleti went through, one thing that is constant with this squad is the fortitude of the players, and manager. There is more a desire to finish what was started over those 240+ minutes in both finals, rather than wallow in their misery. That is what gives both the fans, management and players confidence that they will eventually claim the title.
In Europe this season is where Atleti have found their best form and consistency the whole year, nearly finishing the group stage with maximum points, and giving a lesson to the rest of the competition on how to close out a tie against Bayer Leverkusen. Facing Leicester will be a task unlike any Atleti has faced in the competition this year or any other, but results against Sevilla give the squad confidence. Leicester are a team which strives to play the way Atlético do, producing deadly counter attacks, but it would not be controversial to say that Atlético have a stronger side in all most if not every position than Leicester, which is no dig at them, as Atlético are without doubt one of the better teams in Europe. Progress against Leicester, and only two more matches stand in Atleti’s way to a third final in four seasons, a remarkable achievement.
Off the pitch, Atleti have struggled with numerous problems, from the new badge and stadium, to Lucas Hernandez’s legal issues, as well as endless speculation about player exits and a transfer ban, which still looms. The stadium and the badge are worthwhile arguments to have, and will likely continue throughout the coming months, and how this will impact the club’s finances. With regard to player exits, the rumor mill has calmed, thankfully, with the crown jewel Antoine Griezmann seemingly planning to remain this summer.
If the ban is lifted April 25, new players will be linked to the club, and inevitably there will be departures. Speculation is futile at this point, though, one player in particular it seems the club are interested in pursuing, with the interesting being mutual is Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman has been linked away from Lyon for seemingly decades now, but it seems this summer will be the time he finally makes his long rumored exit. Rumors in numerous Spanish outlets suggest personal terms have been agreed with the player and Atlético, via Gil Martin the club’s chief executive. Though “personal terms” had also been allegedly agreed with Griezmann and Manchester United, and they fell through, this seems more concrete, with Lyon’s Frenchman being very vocal about his desire to leave. A trio of French strikers would be lovely barring an exit of one of Griezmann or Kevin Gameiro, and extremely deadly.
Overall, it’s happy days for the time being at the Calderón, especially if the Champions League campaign continues until May. And though getting ahead of ourselves is highly cautioned, there would be no better way to send off the stadium than with the title which has evaded the club.