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Atlético’s stubborn style starting to hurt more than help

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Diego Simeone built a stubborn team in his own image and needs to adapt now before it’s too late.

Club Atletico de Madrid v SSC Napoli - Audi Cup 2017 Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images for Audi

On Saturday night against Girona, Atlético Madrid were supposed to be the party-poopers, on a mission to start their league campaign with a win as their eternal battle to keep pace with Real Madrid and Barcelona continued.

Minnows such as Girona are meant to be swept aside by Diego Simeone’s army, but once again, we saw a stale, unimaginative and frustrated attack that had few ideas and little drive to take control of the match. The game, with so much on the line in the opening weekend, turned into a stand-off. Girona, shockingly, went 2-0 up before Atlético — with a man less — clawed their way back to secure a draw.

So often football can undergo the kind of analysis that can lead to paralysis. That might be necessary to iron out many of the wrinkles of a game and to add nuance to a game that so often is only viewed through the prism of winning or losing. In this case, there can be an overdoing of the former, but the truth is Atlético are now favourites in 95% of games they play and on occasion Simeone still sets up his team like it’s the opposite.

Atlético’s total market value is north of €500 million while Girona’s is less than one tenth that figure. A discrepancy of this type hardly needs nuance. You have Antoine Griezmann, a player who can single-handedly dismantle teams far greater than Girona. You have Yannick Carrasco, a Belgium international who has been linked with Bayern Munich and can set hearts racing with his speed. There’s Koke and Saúl Ñíguez, who have the energy and inventiveness to boss games. But none of that mattered Saturday because Atlético were not willing to push the boundaries of their greatness and test Girona with their skill.

The excuses were made but only half-heartedly. Atlético were missing Filipe Luís and Diego Godín. Juanfran’s days are numbered. No new summer signings has caused the side to stagnate. These are all reasonable explanations, but truth be told, Simeone knew what was coming and had enough to counter it. But he either did not know how to or underestimated the opponent in this case, and neither explanation inspires confidence.

The same thing happened last year against Alavés, a frustrating and then again against Leganes when Atlético drew 0-0 to prompt Griezmann to start talking about relegation.

Reports suggest that Luciano Vietto and Ángel Correa will start against Las Palmas this weekend, and that would be a nice break from the norm with Griezmann suspended for two games. Fernando Torres’ movement was not up to par and Atlético need to start inflicting a more aggressive and creative style on the game.

The very thing that made Simeone’s side so tough to break down and difficult to beat could be the very thing that ends up beating them. Atlético have always been considered a stubborn side, but now that might be coming back to hurt them.