Following Atlético Madrid’s shock Copa del Rey elimination at Cultural Leonesa, it’s time to follow the wise words of Michael Scott. “Okay, it’s happening. Everybody stay calm. Stay f***ing calm!”
Yes, Thursday night’s 2-1 extra time defeat to a team from the third-tier Segunda B was the undisputed low point of the Diego Simeone era, but this is not the time to panic. This is not the moment to rip up the whole project and start again. This is a moment for reflection, for sure, though it’s not quite the doomsday some are making it out to be.
Firstly, let’s discuss the game itself. With 21 shots to Cultural’s six, Atlético Madrid obviously dominated the encounter as they should do. They couldn’t finish their chances as Álvaro Morata was quite rightly rested and Cultural goalkeeper Lucas Giffard had what was surely one of the games of his life. At the other end, Antonio Adán had the opposite, letting in the only two shots on target he faced and failing to catch most crosses that came his way. It all combined to create a perfect storm of Copa del Rey humiliation.
With the new format, there’s no longer any chance for the bigger teams to redeem themselves back at home in a second leg. Hence the moments of concern that Barcelona and Real Madrid felt too, even if they were able to deal with them better than Los Rojiblancos. This new Copa del Rey format is good and I like these changes that have brought about the one-off ties, but let’s keep in mind that there have been other poor results in previous editions of the Copa del Rey that ended up being forgotten about because everything was resolved in the other leg.
In 2017/18, in 2016/17, in 2015/16 and in 2014/15, Atlético had at least one draw or defeat against a team from a lower division in the Copa del Rey. We just don’t remember those games because the rules were different. Those results were redeemable in a way Thursday night’s wasn’t.
Let’s make one thing clear before we continue. Atlético should have won this game, both in the sense that they played well enough to do so and in the sense that they had a duty to win that game. They didn’t. That happens in football.
It’s okay to be angry and to be upset, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here by overreacting to one match or — if you want to make the case that it’s been more than one match like this — to one season.
This is a year of transition. Diego Simeone himself said it and was criticised for doing so, but he’s right. Atlético lost six of their most important players over the summer — more than half their team. They had to replace each of those players and they had to spend a lot of money to do so, but the truth is this squad is younger than last year’s and not as good. At least not yet.
On top of that, there have been injuries and injuries and more injuries. It’s certainly not as bad as the 2018/19 campaign, which will go down in history as the Parte Médico season, but it’s not been good and this has to be kept in mind, especially when we’re talking about a team that lacks the depth to cope with more than a handful of injuries at a time.
If it sounds like I’m making excuses here for Simeone, it’s because I am. He deserves that. This isn’t Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Frank Lampard. This is Cholo we’re talking about, the man who led a David to beat not one Goliath but two Goliaths to a league title. The man who won a double with this club as a player. The man who is more than just a coach.
The bottom line is this — the 2019/20 season is a transitional season for Atlético, and there will be many bumps along the way. But Simeone is building something. We’ve seen glimpses of it when the team is healthy and firing. In my opinion, he deserves to stay as long as he wants. More realistically, he at least deserves to finish the transition that he’s started by taking the reins again in 2020/21.
This is a blow, but it’s an explainable blow. Please remain calm.