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Espanyol 1-1 Atlético Madrid: Four questions from a damaging draw

The visitors started badly and managed only a draw against the relegation-threatened Parakeets.

RCD Espanyol v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

When will the road struggles end?

Atlético Madrid followers know that despite this season’s truly wretched away form, Diego Simeone’s men have failed to pick up anticipated — or even expected — results on the road for years now.

Atlético have 3 wins (three) from 13 away fixtures in the 2019/20 season. Last season, Los Colchoneros won (seven) as many as they drew (seven). In 2017/18, Atleti managed 11 wins from 19 fixtures away, but scored only 28 times — 10 goals came in two games at Levante and Sevilla.

So this is nothing new, but Simeone has done even less to address it. This marks the third straight year in which Atlético have failed to win at Cornellà, and this Espanyol side is by far the worst of the three. In four away days since 2020 began, Atlético have rung up 3.20 expected goals. Cholo’s crew still averages less than a goal per game on the road, have won one of the past 13 in opposing stadia and have not come back to win a league game away since April 2016. I remember writing the ratings for that one!

The short answer is “it’s difficult to explain, the team just needs to catch a break.” The longer answer has to do with Simeone’s flawed attacking structure and a psychological block preventing the team from getting over the hump.

What more does Saúl need to do?

Stefan Savić’s unfortunate own goal — preceded by a Renan Lodi error — had Atlético behind at halftime. Raúl de Tomás dominated the first 45 minutes, and only a fingertip save by Jan Oblak kept Víctor Sánchez from doubling the lead.

Then along came Saúl, who was in the right place at the right time to take up a failed headed clearance this, inside two minutes of the second half.

Saúl also won four headers, made four tackles, completed two dribbles and completed 80 percent of his 78 passes. My answer to this question is “not much” — especially when guys like Álvaro Morata (zero league goals in 2020) are not stepping up.

Will Renan Lodi end the season as Atlético’s starting left back?

On its face, you may be tempted to say “yes, of course, Saúl can’t play there every week, why are you asking this?” And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong — after all, the 25-year-old played really well in central midfield on Sunday, and Lodi did complete the 90 minutes.

However, the Brazilian played a big part in Espanyol’s opening goal, even if Savić knocked it in.

Javi López baited Lodi and he bit fully. He left Wu Lei all alone to cross into the box — where Savić turned in the ball before Oblak could claw it off the line.

The 21-year-old has produced brilliant outings this season — for example, just two weeks ago he shut down Trent Alexander-Arnold in Madrid. But he’s also had some clangers that have cost the team valuable points. The Alavés draw earlier this season comes to mind. Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League comes to mind, too. Opponents realized months ago he is a serious vulnerability in an otherwise-strong defense — and decisive contests against Sevilla, Liverpool and Athletic Club await. Lodi has to perform during this critical time in the season — otherwise, Simeone really might start to play him as a winger, or even not at all.

How badly will Atlético miss Thomas Partey next week?

We’ll have to see, but early polling suggests “badly.” Thomas’ yellow card for a silly foul late in the first half means he will miss next Saturday’s crunch clash with Sevilla, which is effectively a final for both teams. The Ghanaian has been fantastic for the balance of this season and he played well on Sunday — six tackles, four dribbles and accurate passing from any distance. Simeone does not like to play Koke and Saúl together in central midfield, but he may not have a choice — the Argentine prefers Marcos Llorente on the right-hand side, and he will be needed to help Lodi.