For the first time in Diego Simeone’s reign at Atlético Madrid, his team have fallen to three consecutive LaLiga defeats.
Sevilla’s late goal through Lucas Ocampos was a deserved blow after a lacklustre performance in which Atlético never took control of the game. Felipe’s header cancelled out Ivan Rakitić’s rocket strike, but Atlético were always on the back foot.
With Granada up next on Wednesday, Atlético need to react quickly. So what are three things we learned from the tie in Seville?
Set pieces are scary
Atlético have conceded now from nine set pieces this season. NINE. And three of them from corners.
“We can’t be beaten like that at a set piece. It’s not the first time and we have to work on it,” Felipe said after the match.
That’s an understatement. It reflects a lack of preparation on the training ground, but also a weakness in the squad — a side lacking aerial ability, particularly with Stefan Savić unavailable.
On this occasion, Atlético’s 88th-minute concession was woeful dead-ball defending. Both Felipe and Koke failed to win a header, and João Félix’s marking on Ocampos was lax. Koke is not the strongest in the air and was completely dominated at the far post. And while enough has been made already about Félix’s work rate and his attitude, letting his man go in the final minute is the kind of mistake which has seen others crucified by Simeone.
Last year, Atlético let in only eight goals from set pieces, and that figure has been surpassed in 17 games this season. The winter break provides a chance to rest, but it will also give Cholo Simeone the opportunity to work on this weakness in training. Without the kind of dominant aerial presence a player like Diego Godín possessed, Simeone has to find another way to stop the leak.
Another unusual Simeone call is the wrong one
Pre-match, all the talk was about whether or not Simeone would field João Félix in the starting lineup. When the teams were announced, it almost slipped past many observers that Rodrigo De Paul was benched for the match at the Pizjuán.
De Paul was one of the team’s better performers at Real Madrid last time out, but was dropped to accommodate Thomas Lemar and Marcos Llorente, while Kieran Trippier returned at right-back. Ángel Correa kept his starting role in attack after disappointing against Madrid, and he was hauled off at half-time having failed to make an impact.
Dropping De Paul saw Atlético get overrun in midfield. Koke sat deep to protect a fragile defensive unit, which left Llorente covering the runs of Rakitić and Joan Jordán while Lemar dropped back when possible. De Paul would have added extra discipline and provided a crucial outlet. While Llorente is known for his physique and stamina, he is not the player who can look to spark a counter attack with a 40-yard pass.
With Simeone clearly content to allow Sevilla to dominate possession, it seemed an unusual call to go without De Paul’s passing range and vision.
Evidently, Simeone knows he is not getting the best from his players at present. But while operating with injuries, he’s also making needless changes. Benching Lemar against Real Madrid, and now De Paul against Sevilla, were two crucial flaws that had to be remedied at half-time. In Seville, Llorente’s injury forced Simeone to change tack, back-tracking on a decision that looked unusual from the off.
Saturday’s 11 fed into the feeling of poor preparation when Simeone drills his team to follow a system and a line-up all week, only to change things at half-time.
Luis Suárez can’t be kept on for 2022/23
Anyone who has watched Sevilla this season knows their defence struggles against quick strikers who look to get in behind, and Luis Suárez hasn’t had that in his locker for at least five years.
So Simeone chose to start him on Saturday, and received another inconsequential performance from the Uruguayan.
Suárez is yet to produce the kind of display where he dominates a game. Once again, he looked tired, and the physical Diego Carlos nullified him easily. Suárez finished with only 0.06 expected goals on the night, never posing a real threat.
The 34-year-old’s reaction when substituted on 56 minutes said it all.
Voicing his anger as he walked off around the pitch, Suárez seemed to hit out at Simeone, complaining that “it’s always the same” — no doubt in reference to his touches and current fit in the team. While that desire and fight may be what Simeone wants, he cannot tolerate such an attitude from anyone in his squad. Suárez is set to turn 35 in January and must accept he won’t play 90 minutes in every big game Atlético play, and that his role will gradually diminish.
If Suárez can’t accept that, it’s a recipe for disaster both on the field and in the Atlético dressing room. And if that is the case, Simeone saw enough with Diego Costa last year to know it wouldn’t be a good idea to retain an unhappy veteran forward’s services.
The dilemma Simeone may face is that Suárez, through his anger, showed the kind of motivation severely lacking from a side that looks completely devoid of confidence. Looking at Sevilla on Saturday, it was hard not to think that several of Julen Lopetegui’s players would be better suited to Simeone and Atlético than the players who were dressed in blue.
Simeone even thought as much.
“They pushed with force, they’re a brave team, with personality, with tall players who we knew could suffer,” he said post-match.
While it may seem at first glance like a complementary view of his opponent post-defeat, that quote was almost certainly a thinly-veiled demand to Simeone’s own players. With lowly Granada up next before a brief winter break, a reaction is necessary.