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Are Atlético a new team since the World Cup?

Slight improvements across the board make Simeone’s case.

Atletico de Madrid v Athletic Club - LaLiga Santander Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Diego Simeone says his Atlético Madrid team have come back since the World Cup and looked like a new team. They have played eight games in the league since club football returned and have won five of those games, drawn two and lost one — the one loss coming against FC Barcelona, while relegation-threatened Almería and Getafe notched score draws.

A Copa del Rey run which saw Atlético beat Arenteiro, Real Oviedo and Levante was brought to a halt with a loss against Real Madrid, in a quarterfinal which they took to extra-time.

Victories in recent weeks against Celta Vigo and Athletic Club have strengthened Simeone’s argument that Atlético have been revitalized, but let’s take a look at the numbers to try to be sure.

The following statistics are all per game*

Two of the stats that stand out the most from Atlético’s recent run are expected goals against and successful passes in the opponent’s half.

Atletico de Madrid v Athletic Club - LaLiga Santander Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Atlético have changed their back line since the end of September. Mario Hermoso played in three games before the World Cup, starting and finishing just one, but has resurrected his career since. He has played in all but one of Atlético’s league games (the Barcelona game) and is now considered a sure-fire starter for Simeone — to the point that the club might be considering a new contract for him.

Atlético are also created 2.38 big chances per game compared to 1.71 before the break. They’re also taking those chances at a higher clip. Rodrigo de Paul and Nahuel Molina are playing as well as they ever have for Atlético and the former, in particular, is key to the forward passes stat. He is the energy beside Koke that Atlético have lacked in recent years. Geoffrey Kondogbia has been relegated to an afterthought with RdP playing more centrally and Marcos Llorente back to his role on the right-hand side.

Simeone does have a point about his team improving in recent weeks. There is a purpose to Atlético’s play now that was often lacking last season.

But with Real Betis breathing down their necks for the fourth and final spot in the Champions League, they will need a victory against a team they’re not expected to beat on Saturday — rivals Real Madrid, who Atlético haven’t beaten in the league at the Santiago Bernabéu since 2016.

Atlético are yet to play fellow European challengers Real Betis at home and Rayo Vallecano away, while the Colchoneros also must pay a visit to Barcelona’s Camp Nou Spotify in April. They end the season with key matchups against Real Sociedad and Villarreal, the former figuring to be in the mix for Champions League football and the latter hoping to qualify at least for the Europa Conference League.