In a really mixed season Simeone’s Atletico finally seem to be coming good, and the latest win over Sevilla affirmed their progress in 2017.
A good many people believed Atletico’s season to be pretty much over back in December when they looked in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot. And meanwhile high-flying Sevilla were being tipped for a golden run that might challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid for the title. Come March the roles have almost reversed, with Atletico surging forth into fourth place and looking increasingly likely to take third from Sevilla.
What has sparked Atletico’s return to form is the balance Simeone has long been seeking this season – that between defensive organisation and a swift, clinical attack. The Rojiblancos’ all-out style at the start of the season was exhausting, and left them too open way too often. More importantly it was more of an experiment than their natural game. And their cluelessness when things weren’t going smoothly or sluggishness in switching modes betrayed that fact.
The win v Sevilla was Diego Simeone’s 100th home La Liga game as At. Madrid coach. Record
A62 (57 clean sheets)
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 19, 2017
In recent weeks, though, Simeone has found a relatively stable balance. Against Sevilla, Atleti were focused on a compact, organised game that curbed the visitors’ freedom to play through the middle. And when they got the opportunities, they pounced on the counter, getting their third through one such attack. It was a typically intense, all-round performance by the hosts. And if they can sustain this form – and Griezmann his scoring touch – Leicester probably don’t have much of a chance.
Sevilla season coming undone in horrific run of form
Week 28 of La Liga was a particularly miserable one for Jorge Sampaoli’s side. Right after they dropped points in successive games, they were dumped out of the Champions League in stunning fashion by a seemingly crisis-hit Leicester. And then they were beaten convincingly by Atletico, putting them eight points behind Real Madrid. An eight-point gap at this point in the season – with Madrid having a game in hand – essentially ends title hopes.
While few really believed Sevilla had a chance in the title race, a second or third-place finish looked entirely likely. But it has looked like Sampaoli’s men have been running on fumes for the past few weeks now. Even before they crashed against Leicester, the Andalusian side were barely managing to scrape results. And against a rejuvenated Atletico who are rapidly regaining their grit and confidence of old, they had few answers. They rarely managed to make inroads beyond Gabi, Saul and Koke. And without a conventional number 9 up front to receive and hold the ball, the aerial route also repeatedly failed.
Antoine Griezmann's game by numbers vs. Sevilla:
2 chances created
2 aerial duels won
1 sublime free-kick
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 19, 2017
Even a late tactical switch to work the flanks failed as they were unable to move the ball fast enough or adjust their movements fluently enough to escape Atleti’s press. Tired, lacking ideas and unable to cope with Atletico counters, Sevilla ultimately crumbled.
“We’ve got to try and get our mojo back,” said Sampaoli in the aftermath of the loss. With games coming up against the likes of Barca and an upward-bound Valencia, they surely do.
Diego Simeone on what changed for the Sevilla match and the atmosphere at the Vicente Calderon
The Argentine was delighted with Atleti’s win over Sevilla and spoke of how the team improved this year:
“Since 2017 began, we have improved and grown. There is a better balance to the games, and we are defending better. Today was one of our best and most consistent games this season. We pressed well, countered well.
“Sevilla have had a magnificent season, praised by everyone, the media. So the result is even sweeter for Atletico. This the path for us to follow, facing to what comes next.”
On the ongoing tussle for third-place and automatic qualification for Champions League next year:
“It makes sense that we’re enthused by winning, by cutting the gap to Sevilla to two points and by gaining the head-to-head advantage, but we have to remain calm.[Sevilla] won’t stop fighting and these [two] points are a lot, considering how few matches remain.
“We have picked up seven points in three games. But Sevilla have better fixtures, home games they will win for sure. There are many games to go yet. We have 10 finals still to play.”
Diego Simeone: "Sevilla have had a magnificent season, praised by everyone, the media. So the result is even sweeter for Atletico." pic.twitter.com/6cRdXLgaVx
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 20, 2017
On the challenges he has faced this season:
“This season was the most difficult of my time at the club, due to injuries, and the team lacked consistency. But we always try and turn things around and find the best path to show our identity.”
On the atmosphere at the Vicente Calderon:
“It didn’t feel like a LaLiga match, but like a Champions League match. Not because of how the team played, but because of the atmosphere.
“There’s an energy. Fear caused by the atmosphere exists in football. Anxiety can grow, doubts can transmit. It’s the same way, just in reverse, that a truly great atmosphere can inspire people.”