Atlético Madrid fans returned to Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano for the first time this season, but did not depart as the happier of the two sets of fans after watching an infuriating 2-0 defeat against Villarreal.
The tie was a pure stalemate until the 73rd minute, when Yéremi Pino opened the scoring from a Nahuel Molina giveaway. Gerard Moreno added a second on the counterattack, deep into injury time, to rub salt into the wounds.
Here are three things we’ve learned from an evening to forget on the outskirts of Madrid:
We need to talk about the Frente Atlético
The Frente Atlético are the Ultras group who regularly occupy the Fondo Sur of Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano. The group have a controversial history. Members were found guilty of the murder of two rival fans, Aitor Zabaleta in 1998 and Francisco Javier Romero Taboada (alias Jimmy) in 2014. The latter led to the club officially disassociating itself from the Frente as an official Peña and banning any symbology relating to the group.
But this is rarely enforced at home matches. While the likes of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona banned their radical ultra groups Ultras Sur and Boixos Nois, Atlético have not taken such drastic action against the Frente.
Rather, the relationship between the club and the right-wing group remains close.
Frente Atlético scarves and flags are often seen in pictures of players celebrating titles, and they were prominent in the dressing room during the COVID-hit 2020/21 season. The Frente also paid for the statue of club legend Luis Aragonés outside the Metropolitano, another example of the tight connection that remains between the two parties.
But on Sunday evening, the Frente were involved in more unsavoury and unedifying scenes. As the players who did not start the match warmed down, words were exchanged and Mario Hermoso furiously ran towards the fans. It’s reported that Antoine Griezmann was being insulted by members of the Frente, and Hermoso stepped in to defend his team-mate — which led to insults toward him, with lighters and bottles thrown.
It’s clear this represents a lack of unity across the club. The re-signing of Griezmann, after he left for Barcelona only two years earlier, only served to further reinforce that this has been a long time coming. From the club’s crest alteration and the change in stadium soon after, Sunday’s events are yet more proof that the relationship between Atlético and the fans continues to deteriorate. The Frente have only been too happy to revel in the chaos and provoke the players.
The most vocal and vociferous of all supporters groups is far removed from the “committee of fans” set up earlier this year. They will make their views clear in the stands, and so Atlético must consider how they police this group of fans before things turn in an even-darker direction.
There will be plenty of ups and downs
After the high of Getafe last weekend, many Atlético fans were starting to get carried away dreaming about the possibilities of what could happen in the months ahead. Free-flowing attacking football, full of confidence and fluidity, looked like the Atleti side that won LaLiga in 2020/21.
This defeat at home to Villarreal brought Colchoneros back down to earth with a bump.
Atlético looked disjointed, unstructured, and at a complete loss for much of the game. Villarreal slowed the pace down and seemed comfortable allowing Atleti possession, something Diego Simeone’s side just didn’t seem to know how to use.
The starkest contrast in fortunes belonged to Molina. The new signing’s terrible clearance, hashed back into his own penalty area, fed in Yéremi to break the deadlock, and he was then dismissed for a needless altercation on the halfway line. After a promising debut, he’s already looking like a scapegoat.
Villarreal, on the other hand, were lethal on the counter. Had it not been for some of the best defending the Metropolitano has ever seen from Reinildo, this tie could easily have ended 3-0 with Gerard Moreno racing through in injury time before the second goal.
Last season, Villarreal were seconds and one horrific defensive error away from taking all three points in this fixture at an equally-early stage in the campaign. This time, they’ve done it.
Atleti’s response will now be crucial, going away to Mestalla next Monday night. There are few tougher places to go and it was the scene of another disappointing draw last season. Winning this time would even out some of the upset at Sunday’s result, but the Rojiblancos know that they can’t afford to slip up too often early on, or they risk the likes of Villarreal, Real Betis and Real Sociedad smelling blood from the off.
LaLiga needs goal-line technology
We all need to be honest. Nobody knows if Yannick Carrasco’s header crossed the line or not. But therein lies the problem.
VAR had a guess, based off the camera angles and frames available, and it looks as though it was a marginal call. But to be in a position where we cannot be certain in the year 2022 is downright laughable.
The Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A and Eredivisie all have goal-line technology in place, operating with Hawk-Eye or Goalcom to provide certainty. LaLiga does not, because Javier Tebas refused to foot the €4 million bill to implement the technology back in 2017.
And despite trials in the Spanish Super Cup by the RFEF, LaLiga has remained firm in that there is no need for the technology. They argue that VAR technology can serve the same purpose. LaLiga believes that video cameras can pick up with sufficient precision whether or not the whole ball has crossed the line.
On Sunday evening, we saw a clear case where VAR technology is not enough. Had the ball crossed the line, the tie would have been level at 1-1 with less than 15 minutes to go. With such fine margins, particularly between two teams who could be competing for the same league position come the end of the season, it’s hard to see how €4 million would not be worth it.