Atlético Madrid’s European campaign for 2022/23 is over in its entirety after a 2-1 defeat against Porto left them bottom of Champions League group B, below Bayer Leverkusen after they took a 0-0 draw from their home game with Club Brugge.
Mehdi Taremi cut through Atleti’s defence like a hot knife through butter, and Stephen Eustáquio revelled in acres of space inside the penalty box to add a second on 24 minutes, making it the fourth-quickest brace to be scored against Atleti in the Champions League.
In the end, Iván Marcano’s deflection off Yannick Carrasco’s corner went into his own net and that was the only time Atlético could breach the Porto defence.
Here are three things (painfully) learned from the match.
Things can always get worse
Finishing bottom of a Champions League group featuring a team in the relegation zone in the Bundesliga, the third-best team in Belgium, and the third-best team in Portugal, is Diego Simeone’s biggest failure as Atletico de Madrid coach.
A week which includes Champions League elimination, a defeat to the 19th-placed side in LaLiga and now a departure from all European competition entirely, is without a doubt the most disastrous week Atlético have had in over a decade.
Off the pitch there is disunity, on it there is a shambles. And just as there was hope for 30 seconds against Cádiz, that hope lasted only 4 minutes and 31 seconds against Porto for the earliest Champions League goal conceded by Atleti since 2008.
That mentality and the woeful defending reflected a level of quality below even that which Atleti have shown in recent weeks. Lacklustre in attack and shambolic in defence, a chaotic own goal from a corner proved to be the visitors’ only highlight, if it can even be called that.
And all the while, 1,500 Atleti fans were out in force in Porto and remained loyal, cheering chants and singing to players even beyond the final whistle. Those who made the journey from the Spanish capital across the Portuguese border for the match made the most of a national holiday on Tuesday, but now face a long journey back to Madrid.
“Our fans don’t deserve this,” Antoine Griezmann reflected after the final whistle.
Lo de la afición del Atlético de Madrid. pic.twitter.com/3cpXHjdTRM— Sphera Sports (@SpheraSports) November 1, 2022
It’s easy to agree with that, and few fanbases have been made to suffer by a team promising so much anywhere across the world this season.
Now touching this new low, some will be wondering how much worse things can get.
João Félix’s latest second chance
Back in his homeland, back in the starting line-up for the first time since the Madrid Derby in mid-September, and back in form after a brace against Cádiz off the bench, surely the stage was set for João Félix to become a hero (of sorts)?
João drifted far wide to the left, where he seems to prefer to play, and created the odd flash touch and control. But there was no end product. Thirty-five percent of his actions ended with possession being lost, and so it was no surprise that Cholo Simeone once again hauled him off in the search for a spark in the final third.
We can talk about a lack of support for him, but this is a man who cost 126 million euros. He is the one Atlético player who Simeone should be able to rely on to create something out of nothing. He failed to create a single chance, and he failed with both of his attempted dribbles. His price tag and self-belief do not seem to match the majority of his performances. Even if he did perform well against Cádiz, it is the only one of his last 20 appearances in which he has got on the scoresheet.
This defeat, and Champions League elimination as a whole, are not down to João Félix. But it does raise the question of how many more chances he will get. Atlético fans were crying out for consistency and for him to build on Saturday’s brace, but they once again were left disappointed.
So, what’s next? With finances now necessarily tighter than ever due to the income loss, a sale and wage bill reduction is needed. Isolated by Simeone, whose contract the board are reportedly considering extending to 2026, the Portuguese’s days must be numbered. He’s failing to either talk the talk or walk the walk, while charging Atlético a handsome sum to do neither. His name will surely be among the leading candidates to move on, even as soon as January if the right offer arrives.
What happened to the Atlético mentality?
In the space of four days, Atlético conceded two goals in the first five minutes of action in two separate matches. On this occasion, one of Atleti’s most important European nights in years, with any kind of European participation at stake, the team was two goals down within 25 minutes.
And it’s understandable. Nahuel Molina is poor defensively. Reinildo is out of form for the first time since he joined. Stefan Savić looks more like a spectator than a defender. Josema Giménez looks as scared to get injured as the rest of us are watching him.
The same could be said of players being selected on merit. Ángel Correa has been out of form for some time and Rodrigo de Paul has only shown flashes of talent ever since he signed. The likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Matheus Cunha may feel frustrated to have been on the bench.
In the end, it all points to one thing on the pitch more than any other: Koke’s absence. The captain is one who is rarely out with injuries, but when he is, he leaves a large hole in midfield. This time, he’s leaving a rather large hole in leadership, too.
Jan Oblak did his best from between the sticks with limited influence, while Giménez and Savić have the authority, if not the influence, to do more. Saúl Ñíguez looks a shadow of his former self in every sense and Antoine Griezmann was missing in action.
This is a squad full of egos and talent, but devoid of any character. It is the stark opposite of pure Cholismo, of the teams of 2013/14 and 2015/16. Where the likes of Juanfran and Gabi commanded respect from team-mates and rivals despite their limited talents, Rodrigo de Paul has one eye on Latin pop awards night in Miami and João Félix has found time to play in between tantrums.
This team is a far cry from Cholismo’s glory days.