Saturday evening’s draw with bottom side Espanyol not only saw Atletico Madrid’s bad record on the road extended to just one win from 13 games, but it also saw striker Álvaro Morata go yet another week without scoring.
I need to make two things clear first before I get into my main thesis. Point number one: I believed that it was a mistake for Atlético to agree to sign Morata permanently for €50 million last July. But point number two: I will always back any player who wears the red and white — but really, I’ve seen enough.
When Morata joined Atlético in the summer, everyone knew they were getting a striker who struggled to make an impression in England’s top division. While I could possibly sympathize with the player and say “maybe the English style of football didn't suit him,” I could also say he just didn't take the chances that were handed to him.
Fast forward from the summer to a league season in which Diego Simeone’s team has failed to justify the third-highest wage expenditure in LaLiga — Morata’s situation has not changed at all. I will concede Atleti’s underperforming season doesn't fall solely on his shoulders, but his performances haven't helped as much as they probably should have.
In 18 starts and four substitute appearances in LaLiga, Morata has scored a team-high seven goals with a 58 percent shot accuracy rating. But that doesn't tell the whole story.
The 27-year-old is currently sitting on a goal drought that stretches back nine games, when he scored an 85th minute goal to lift Los Colchoneros to their last away win against Real Betis. Since hitting that winner against Betis, Morata has failed to deliver in a stretch of games where Simeone has depended on the Spain striker to step up in the absence of Diego Costa and João Félix.
Take Sunday’s game, for example. Morata registered 27 touches and managed just a single shot at goal which hit the base of the post. He seemed to spend more time on the floor than he did on his feet, backing into every aerial battle looking to “draw” the opposition into a foul which would see Atlético gain an opportunity from the set-piece. However, not once did Morata receive a benefit from this approach and it was very clear this was all he had to offer. Costa replaced him in the 63rd minute.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair to judge Morata off one game. To put into context of just how ineffective he has been lately — in the nine games since his goal against Betis, he has had nine attempts at goal with six on target. That’s just one shot per game, in addition to zero goals.
This is not good enough for a striker positioned to be the first-choice goal threat, let alone a striker who set you back €50 million.
If you were to look at his stats for the season as opposed to his current goal drought, then you could very well argue that I'm being harsh here. Goals have come at a premium for Simeone’s men, and only eight teams have scored less — with Athletic Club being the only one near LaLiga’s top half.
The aforementioned injuries to Costa and Félix — at least one of that duo has missed 21 of Los Rojiblancos’ 26 games. But this only furthers the point of how big Morata’s opportunity has been, to force Simeone’s hand into making big decisions as to who should partner him upfront.
The only big decision Simeone has to make now is to bench Morata. With Costa and Félix both fit and returning to the fold, with Ángel Correa in the form he has been in, Morata’s days of automatic selection have to come to an end.
Atlético’s pursuit of third place took a huge blow after Sunday’s draw against Espanyol. Sevilla and Getafe both moved above them after they won their games over Osasuna and Mallorca respectively. Real Sociedad beat Valladolid 1-0 on Friday night to move one point behind the mattress makers — with a game in hand.
Matchday 27 will see Simeone’s men go head-to-head with Sevilla in Madrid. This has essentially become a no-excuses, must-win game. And if Atlético are going to be at their best, this will be the time to start Costa or Félix, or even hand a start to Vitolo. Simeone simply has to recognise this and make changes — starting with Álvaro.