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Lack of options dooms Atlético in surprise defeat at Eibar

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Multiple injuries to Simeone’s small squad created big problems on Saturday.

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

Eibar made history on Saturday night and sprung an upset over Atlético Madrid — a 2-0 victory good for the hosts’ first-ever top-flight win over los Colchoneros.

José Mendilibar’s endlessly-energetic side had threatened to beat Atlético with solid performances for years and wasted little time in taking control of this match. Jan Oblak had to parry away a pinball deflection inside five minutes but could not keep out the eventual winner, scored by Esteban Burgos on his second appearance for the club. Striker Sergi Enrich made the assist with a headed flick to the unmarked central defender at the back post, and a stunned, fatigued Atlético never rallied — even with over 60 percent possession. Midfielder Edu Expósito put the match to bed with a long-range effort on 90 minutes.

Eibar out-Atleti’d Atleti in large part because the squad’s annual springtime slashing has started early. Due to various injuries, Diego Simeone had to stick three inexperienced academy products on the bench — Sergio Camello and Óscar Clemente entered the match in the final 10 minutes. The coach has always preferred a small squad, and this small squad has lost three players in two weeks.

One solution was to start Vitolo opposite Ángel Correa, but such a move left the Rojiblancos too open and removed a major weapon from the bench. Eibar stormed out of the gates — and without Koke to run and cover for everyone, los Armeros bypassed Atlético’s midfield easily and repeatedly in the first half. Marcos Llorente did not play for the second consecutive league fixture after he received 19 minutes in last week’s Supercopa.

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

Santiago Arias returned to the fold after Kieran Trippier was sidelined with a groin malady, and the right back’s figurative rust was easy to see. Arias gave away the corner which led to Eibar’s first goal and made several defensive mistakes which somehow went unpunished. The Colombian, though talented, never has won Simeone’s trust and may be the first guy out the door next summer.

José Giménez and Thomas Lemar missed out as well — the former, like Koke, re-aggravated a muscular injury in Saudi Arabia. Lemar, though smoother in buildup, may not have been an upgrade over what Simeone has at present. But the Felipe-Stefan Savić pairing is too inflexible, and it was not a coincidence that Atlético conceded another goal from distance because of it. Spain international Mario Hermoso appears to be on the outs again, limiting the coach’s choices even further.

“Befuddling” is one way to describe Cholo’s inability to maximize this still-small but rebuilding team’s potential. Saturday saw the mattress makers’ lack of aggression and inventiveness lead to their falling on the wrong side of history. While Simeone’s best Atlético sides mirrored his considerable bark and bite, this one has too often reflected the Argentine’s stubbornness and uncertainties with a new group of players. As a result, Atleti now trail Real Madrid by eight points. The three-game winning streak that took Atleti into third place is in the rearview — come Monday, just four points could separate third from ninth.

EIB XI Dmitrović; Tejero, Burgos, Bigas, Cote; Expósito, Álvarez; León (Cristóforo 73’), Orellana (De Blasis 79’), Inui; Enrich (Charles 86’)

Goals Burgos 10’, Expósito 90’

ATM XI Oblak; Arias, Savić, Felipe, Saúl; Thomas, Herrera (Lodi 73’), Correa, Vitolo (Clemente 87’); Félix (Camello 83’), Morata.

Goals None