Atlético Madrid have been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Segunda B’s Cultural Leonesa.
The game, played in León, went to extra-time level at one apiece. But Rayo Vallecano‘s on-loan striker Sergio Benito slotted home from a counter in the 108th minute to leave Atlético with just LaLiga and the Champions League to fight for this season.
Diego Simeone opted for a strong XI but left Jan Oblak out of the squad. He played João Félix and Ángel Correa up front, with Marcos Llorente and Héctor Herrera in the middle of the park. It took over an hour for the Rojiblancos to go ahead, when Correa struck in the 62nd minute. Julen Castaneda equalised, however, and the game went to an extra half-hour.
That’s when disaster struck.
“We couldn’t score,” Simeone said. “And that is absolutely my responsibility.”
Cholo was obviously talking about the Cultural game, but he might as well be talking about any game or the season in general. Atlético have failed to score enough from any danger created. Félix has scored just four goals and often appears a shadow of the player the club spent €126 million on last summer. Without disrespecting Cultural, Atlético should have had enough firepower to deal with the side form the northwest — in normal time.
“Cultural deserved the win,” Simeone said.
“The fans don’t deserve this,” Saúl said post-match. “And the club neither. It’s the player’s fault and we have to be self-critical. In my seven years in the first team, I have never lived through anything like this.”
Atlético trail LaLiga’s two leaders by eight points. Simeone’s men also have Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool juggernaut coming to the Wanda Metropolitano in a couple weeks. The next few months could feel very long for Atlético if the team can’t at least launch a late attack at one of those titles.
Simeone, for his part, says he has a very good squad and the desire to continue. But it has been asked many times over the past year-plus, and it will be asked again after a result like this — is he is the right man to take the team forward?
That may be the type of decision which needs to be made when things cool down, and at any rate it would be a massive surprise for anything to happen before the end of the season.