Atlético Madrid crashed back down to earth with their second away defeat of the season as they travelled to the Canary Islands and suffered a 2-1 defeat to Las Palmas on Friday night.
After a poor first half, Kirian Rodríguez made the night all go wrong for Atlético as he opened the scoring, with Benito adding another off the bench 25 minutes later. With the home still winning the battle. Álvaro Morata would continue his fine form by pulling one back late on — but it was too little, too late, even as the away team threw everything at Las Palmas.
Here are four of the major talking points from the game.
1. Atlético’s away form is concerning
At the Estadio Civítas Metropolitano, Atlético have won six games out of six this season. Away from home, Atleti have won three, drawn three and lost two. In LaLiga, that would put them joint top with a game in hand on home form, and fifth on away form.
What’s increasingly worrying is where these dropped points on the road are coming from. A point on the road at a top-six rival like Real Betis can be acceptable, but defeats to mid-table sides like Valencia and Las Palmas are results that must be avoided if Atleti are to establish themselves as title candidates.
As with against Valencia, Atlético looked outbattled at the Estadio de Gran Canaria as Las Palmas sealed their first win over Atleti on home turf since 1987. The game being played on a Friday night was unusual, but seemingly benefitted the Colchoneros with Champions League action coming up — two away draws in Europe mean that qualification from the group stage is far from secure.
Diego Simeone’s team are not travelling well this season. The late resurgence, which included Álvaro Morata’s strike and another effort which hit the woodwork, was improved, but Atleti again looked slow and lacked intensity. That’s a stark contrast to the recent home form. One for the coach to ponder on.
2. Jan Oblak is out of form
It may seem strange to criticise the one and only Jan Oblak, but his early-season resurgence in form has not continued. While he started strongly, he conceded two goals with a combined 0.45 xG on Friday night, and by doing so made it five goals conceded from the last seven shots faced.
In an analysis of Oblak’s recent form, Into the Calderón editor Jeremy Beren wrote, “Oblak had a clear look at (Kirian’s) chance, but he was woefully out of position and too late to react,” going on to explain that “unfortunately, the 30-year-old has not been able to carry his spring 2023 form into the new season. Right now, by the numbers, he is perhaps LaLiga’s worst goalkeeper.”
...— Atlético Stats (@atletico_stats_) November 3, 2023
Insostenible el tema bajo palos. De los últimos siete remates a puerta a Oblak, CINCO fueron gol...
⚠️Sensación de que CADA TIRO, a temblar... pic.twitter.com/mrrZvayHHj
Jeremy’s column goes into the details of what is behind his poor form, but it continues to be a worry. Atlétcoi’s strong results have come from cutting edge in attack, and while 11 goals is the joint second-lowest number conceded this season, the team has kept only four clean sheets from 14 games to date.
This no longer seems to be a bad spell but more of a prolonged decline for Oblak, and Atlético may need to start thinking about the future. Ivo Grbić, his back-up, has done little to suggest that he would be a worthy successor, and Atleti’s limited transfer budget means that forward planning is essential. Unlike in the past, when succession planning was key in goal and eventually led to Oblak’s introduction, there is nobody obvious lined up.
3. Is this Atleti’s best midfield?
Looking at the teamsheet before the game, many Atlético fans would have argued that a midfield three of Koke, Pablo Barrios and Rodrigo de Paul is as strong as it can get based on form from this season and overall quality. There was excitement about how they could play together, given that Barrios’ injury coincided with Koke’s return, and hope about how it could work out.
In truth, it would be unfair to judge the trio on the 90 minutes that took place on the Canary Islands. Las Palmas overpowered them in the middle, outnumbering them and drawing out extra men who came from Atleti’s five-man defensive unit — meaning that they lacked men in the middle to engage in a dynamic physical battle with an impressive Kirian and Javi Muñoz.
Barrios was arguably the pick of the midfield three, winning a match-high three fouls and winning six duels, showing that he wasn’t afraid to get stuck into the battle. He was left more exposed when dropping into the holding role later on, but continued to look composed and created a chance in the closing stages in what would be only his fourth full 90 minutes in the first team.
De Paul’s suspension means that he won’t be available to repeat in the 11 in the middle against Celtic, but it shows an interesting method which Simeone could consider in the weeks ahead.
4. What were those substitutions?
Those watching Friday night saw a very unusual situation unfold. Simeone left behind his partido a partido philosophy and instead turned his attentions to next week’s Champions League clash with Celtic, all while losing away from home against a team that Atlético should beat. It’s something that has happened so few times during his almost 11 years in charge that you could probably count it on one hand.
On 60 minutes at 1-0 down, Simeone took off Koke and Antoine Griezmann, the two leaders of his team, and replaced them with Marcos Llorente and Ángel Correa, while de Paul was substituted for Saúl Ñíguez only five minutes later. To take off three players with such a substantial influence was always a brave move from Simeone, and it ultimately backfired in the short-term.
You just cannot take off your best players when you’re losing, I’m sorry. No matter what game is next, I don’t give a damn about it when we are playing and losing the current one 0-1. Partido a partido what?— AU (@feelAtleti) November 3, 2023
Squad depth continues to be a concern for Atlético, and Simeone is seeing that he cannot afford to rotate his key starters like these three players. If it was his desire to give them some rest before Tuesday night’s crucial Champions League game, which makes sense, his issue came in that they didn’t get the job done and put Atleti into a comfortable position before the time when Simeone wanted to take them off.
The coach also wasn’t helped by the fact that his substitutes disappointed. Llorente and Correa are both players with the potential to change a game, and Saúl’s form this season has been impressive, but all three failed to produce, and Sául had one of his worst outings to date this campaign. The only substitution to come out with any credit was Josema Giménez as he continued to regain momentum following his injury layoff.