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Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Atlético Madrid: We’re gonna need more Mahou

Following a historic collapse in Turin, Atlético Madrid needed a response in La Liga to at least raise the mood a bit.

Athletic Club v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

ATM XI: Oblak, Juanfran (Correa 80’), Giménez, Godín, Saúl, Koke, Rodri, Thomas, Griezmann, Morata, Costa

ATH XI: Herrerin, De Marcos, Nuñez, Yeray Álvarez, Berchiche, San José, Dani Garcia, Ibai Gomez (Lekue 91’), Raul Garcia (Kodro 85’), Muniain (Cordoba 71’), Williams

In response to the horrendous performance midweek, Diego Simeone opted to change Atlético Madrid’s formation for their trip to San Mamés. Rather than his preferred 4-4-2, Atléti deployed a 4-3-3 with all three of their strikers. At first it seemed as if the three would remain fairly central, but Diego Costa and Griezmann were deployed as wingers on the left and right, respectively. It was an interesting choice by the manager, understandable considering the midfielders available to Cholo, but the three strikers was an awkward fit. Also, as a result of the injury crisis, Saúl had to play left back again today, certainly a waste of his talents, but the only other option would be an academy player.

Frankly, it was clear how much the result against Juventus affected the players as there seemed to be very little confidence in the team. Outside of Koke, the midfield seemed hesitant to take the ball forward and advance the play. Griezmann once again dropped far too deep, mostly as a result of the lack of service he was getting on the right wing. The most substantial aspect of the first half were the errant passes made by Atléti that prevented any sort of momentum from being generated.

And much like in Turin, Atléti were extremely flat in the first half, the biggest chance coming for Ibai Gomez of Athletic who forced Oblak into a save with a shot from the outside of his right boot. The best chance for Atléti came just before halftime as Griezmann way played in by a long ball from Thomas Partey, but Athletic got out of it after a risky, but effective challenge from Yeray. Griezmann went down under the challenge, but given how delayed his reaction to the challenge was, there was no chance of a penalty being awarded. Once again, however, Atlético Madrid went into halftime with zero shots, which no matter your current viewpoint on this team, is bad and disheartening for a team that needed a strong response.

The second half started a bit more brightly with Diego Costa making a good run into the box, but was unable to pick out a teammate with a pullback. On 60 minutes, some sloppy defending by Athletic and Miguel San Jose caused Morata to go over in the box, and after a brief VAR check the penalty appeal was denied. Again Morata denied a penalty which was admittedly borderline, but could have easily been called a penalty. Following the denial and not even a video review, Profe Ortega was sent off for protesting the decision shortly afterwards. Bad, meet worse.

On 73’ Athletic would take the lead from another failed Atlético attack and a shocking defensive breakdown. The substitute Cordoba would find Iñaki Williams at the far post for a tap in. Diego Godín completely let Williams run off of him to get into a great position and allow the goal. Some shocking decision-making outside of the penalty area by Giménez allowed for Athletic to create the chance and they did not waste their opportunity. Worse, meet catastrophe.

Since this match had already devolved into a comedy, Diego Simeone clearly decided that this team did not need any fullbacks at all, taking off Juanfran for Correa. So now, Thomas Partey and Saúl were the fullbacks, which is certainly something. Williams nearly doubled his tally for the day on 84’ with a gorgeous strike from outside of the area that just curled over the bar. The home side would double their lead, again just moments after making a substitution. Newly introduced Kodro would chip Jan Oblak after a deflection off of an Atlético defender. Catastrophe, meet unmitigated disaster.

This week is the worst week in Diego Simeone’s tenure at the club, and will almost certainly elicit questions from fans and media about his job. Losing to Juventus can be justified, but to follow it up with such a pathetic performance is perhaps an indication of a rot beginning to form in this squad. Certainly, Simeone will not, and perhaps should not, be fired but what this week shows is that incremental change is no longer acceptable. Diego Simeone needs to adapt his style in order to make Atléti competitive for the biggest prizes in football again or Atléti will remain plucky underdogs forever.