Atlético Madrid’s European prospects are dimming.
Los Colchoneros can blame the calendar. They can blame football’s heartless preference of finances over health. After all, the last international break brought back positive COVID-19 tests and muscular maladies.
But Diego Simeone isn’t in the business of making excuses. Not in the Champions League, which the coach said “waits for no one” on Tuesday. He’ll be happy enough with the clean sheet, and one point is better than zero, given the context. But Atlético have no one to blame but themselves for their present Champions League woes.
You can’t blame the calendar for a performance that saw the team effectively run out of ideas after an hour. You can’t blame the calendar for Simeone’s refusal to dig as deep as he could into his bench — though he was proactive, the Argentine used only three subs, leaving Vitolo and academy jewel Germán Valera on the bench.
Koke did have the ball in the net on his 100th European appearance, but his 68th minute finish from a rebound was disallowed for offside. João Félix and Marcos Llorente had missed first half chances, and the team hoofed 39 crosses into the box. In all, Atlético outshot Lokomotiv Moscow 20-4, but goalkeeper Guilherme made six more saves to secure the draw.
Atlético’s situation in this year’s Champions League is bearing an eerie resemblance to the 2017/18 edition. Simeone’s men went on to win the Europa League that season, but they dropped into the Europa League after winning only one group game — failing to beat Pot 4 side Qarabag home and away did them in.
This year’s Pot 4 contestant can leapfrog Atlético into second place with a win over Red Bull Salzburg next Wednesday. Atleti need a draw or home win against Bayern Munich — winners of 15 straight Champions League games — to remain on course for the knockout stage.
Atlético will not sustain good form without a healthy number nine.
Without a reference point a la Luis Suárez, Marko Nikolić’s five-man defense were able to keep Atlético out of the middle. This left Yannick Carrasco and Renan Lodi to attempt hopeful cross after hopeful cross — the left-sided duo combined for 14 in the opening 45 minutes.
After he mishit a Kieran Trippier cross early on, João Félix took up a pocket of space behind Carrasco to Guilherme’s right. Llorente and Ángel Correa twisted, turned, and whirled around the 18-yard box. They created several chances, teaming up for three shots and five key passes, but Llorente met resistance in goal.
Suárez is still isolating in Madrid, and his return is unknown. Diego Costa has gone right back Into the medical staff’s hands after being diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis on Wednesday morning. Simeone will have to persist without a true center-forward for the time being, and that is already proving problematic. All the intricate passing moves this “new” Atlético can knit together will go for nought without that last moving part at the point of attack.
Is Mario Hermoso becoming an essential player?
Hermoso was almost considered a flop following his debut season in the capital. But he has turned things around in his second season, and the left-footed defender’s improvement has made Simeone more comfortable in swapping out his 4-4-2 for more of a 3-5-2 look with Trippier and Carrasco as wingbacks. We saw this take place against Barcelona on Saturday, when Hermoso started and played all 90 minutes.
This isn’t great news for Renan Lodi, who is facing serious competition for the first time since he joined Atlético in 2019. Hermoso is a classy passer who isn’t afraid to get forward — and best of all, he’s held his own when called upon defensively. Lodi will have to make himself indispensable in light of these new developments.
ATM XI Oblak; Trippier, Savić, Giménez, Lodi (Hermoso 59’); Koke, Saúl, Llorente (Lemar 59’), Carrasco (Camello 79’); Félix, Correa.
LOK XI Guilherme; Zhivoglyadov, Murilo, Corluka, Rybus; Kamano (Rybchinskii 75’), Krychowiak, Kulikov, Ignatiev, Miranchuk (Magkeev 76’); Zé Luís.