Atlético Madrid embarrassed themselves both on and off the field on Sunday in a terrible night for the club.
Real Madrid ran out the victors in the Derbi Madrileño, while a minority group of fans sang racist chants outside the stadium as Atlético stumbled into the FIFA break.
The Colchoneros were the better team for the vast majority of this game, but it only took two moments for Real Madrid to have two chances and make them count. Rodrygo Goes and Fede Valverde provided clinical finishes in the first half, showing a cutting edge Atlético distinctly lacked.
There was a consolation goal seven minutes from time, when the ball bounced off substitute Mario Hermoso’s shoulder and in, but he was then sent off eight minutes later with a questionable second yellow.
Scoring in the 83rd minute to make it 2-1 and then getting sent off in the 90th minute can now be added to the Mario Hermoso collection. https://t.co/9mF24x129o— Sam Leveridge (@samleveridge) September 18, 2022
Here are three things we learned from the game.
Atlético have a serious problem off the field…
What is there to say about the disgusting scenes outside Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano?
️CÁNTICOS RACISTAS CONTRA VINICIUS de cientos de aficionados del @Atleti a las puertas del Metropolitano:— Tiempo de Juego (@tjcope) September 18, 2022
"Eres un mono, Vinicius eres un mono".
⛔️FUERA LOS VIOLENTOS Y RACISTAS DEL FÚTBOL
Video @chema_medina #AtletiRealMadrid pic.twitter.com/KoHSNrtd3G
Certain sectors have spent all week poking the bear and bringing up the topic of racism, unfairly pointing the finger at Atlético. Unfairly until Sunday night, when a group of Atlético fans humiliated their club.
Chants of “You’re a monkey, Vinícius” do not belong in football. Unlike in some instances, this was not a question of a one-off individual. This was not a small gathering. This was a group of hundreds of fans, stood directly outside the gates to the stadium, who took part in, or spectated, or recorded on their phones, as racist chants were sung.
It is something which simply cannot be acceptable.
Atlético’s complicated relationship with the Frente Atlético ultra group is something which has featured in this column before, and we have highlighted the need for change in that relationship.
It is still yet to materialise.
The scenes from Sunday evening, which have spread around the world, are not only disgusting, but do an incredible amount of damage to the club’s image. As much as Miguel Ángel Gil Marín and Enrique Cerezo like to talk about their desire to internationalise the club and grow revenue streams abroad, they cannot turn a blind eye to the fans who unashamedly racially abuse rivals on the doorstep of the stadium.
Action must follow, where it comes from LaLiga and the authorities or not. Atleti should take control of the issue. A mere tweet calling to “support with passion and respect” is not enough. Serious measures must now be taken by Atlético de Madrid.
…and a pretty big problem on the field, too
Turning our attention to what went right and what went wrong on the field, there can only be one starting point: the defence.
This is not a criticism of individuals, of their performances, or anything of the sort, but more a reflection on the unit.
Reinildo, Felipe and Axel Witsel all played fairly well as individuals, but the combination of the three puts together two 33-year-old veterans, one of them out of position, and a left-back playing in the middle. None of the trio is blessed with great pace or mobility.
Up against them was arguably the quickest, most energetic and mobile front line in Spain, and possibly even Europe. Vinícius and Rodrygo Goes were running rings around the middle three, while Fede Valverde’s explosive runs from deep left the Atlético midfield stranded and the back three outnumbered.
This was not a matter of an individual letting the team down, but rather a lack of options forcing Diego Simeone’s hand and giving him no choice but to field a back three that wasn’t suited to their opponents. Mario Hermoso’s introduction helped to add a little more mobility, but his firecracker personality ended up costing Atleti dearly.
Yannick Carrasco was preoccupied with trying to create an offensive outlet (something he actually did fairly well, generating more chances than anyone else), than with the defensive side of his game. This left Reinildo exposed. It was a moment like that which saw Reinildo booked early and, on another day, he could have seen red instead of yellow.
On the other flank, Marcos Llorente continued to look lost as a right-wing-back. He could engage with Vinícius in a foot race and had the stamina to maintain him, but he is not defensively strong enough to be in one-on-one battles like that.
“I played Llorente at full-back because I thought he could cover Vinícius,” Simeone explained post-match.
Supported by Felipe, it was he who would dispossess his compatriot more often than not with brute strength.
Simeone is paying for a summer of mistakes
The team selection alone highlighted the challenges that the coach is having to deal with. The list is a long one, but it highlights that as much as we can debate or argue about tactics and selections, Diego Simeone is often operating with one hand tied behind his back.
Firstly, the right-back who he reportedly pushed for, Nahuel Molina, was left as an unused substitute, clearly untrusted for a game this big. A nightmare start for the club saw him relegated to second-choice, with Llorente preferred at right-back for another ultimately-inconsequential display.
The decision not to go in for a central defender, instead relying upon an out-of-position Witsel rather than a natural or sustainable long-term solution, remains a diabolical one. It’s a call which has been talked about for 18 months and is still not fixed.
“I hope to have Savić and Giménez back soon. The year we were champions we had them available almost all season,” Simeone said postmatch. That hasn’t been the case since, and nobody else has come in to replace them.
Finally, we turn our attentions to attack. Antoine Griezmann was the shock selection in the starting line-up for his first 90 minutes of the campaign. Simeone clearly wants to have the Frenchman in his team and in his strongest XI, but the disastrous negotiations with FC Barcelona have meant that it is not yet possible. Whether this was a one-off, or a sign of a solution, will likely not be clear until after the international break.
Simeone is not perfect, and he has made mistakes, but it’s like asking a gymnast to pull off their routine blindfolded. That is what Andrea Berta and co. have left the coach with: Two years after winning LaLiga, Atleti’s squad is light years behind either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Only time will tell if the chasing pack of Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Villarreal, Sevilla and others can catch up.