MADRID, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) — Atletico Madrid are running into issues that they have commonly faced as a squad, as evidenced by a late goal for RB Leipzig that gave them Germans a 2-1 over the Spanish side to book their place in the Champions League semifinal.
“Leipzig were the better team, they had more of the ball, they were faster and more intense in their play,” admitted Atletico Madrid captain Koke minutes after Tyler Adams’ late goal lifted Leipzig to the win.
Atletico had gone into the game as favorites for most in Spain, with speculation that this could be their year after a run of seven wins and four draws after the return of La Liga in June, but it was not to be, and their season is now over.
“You have to give a lot of the merit to Leipzig for the way they went into the game, but we also have to take some of the blame for not being able to understand the way they played and people like me, have to read things faster,” admitted Koke’s midfielder partner Saul Niguz, who admitted that his team had sat too deep.
“When we won the ball back, we were so far from their goal that it can be difficult to attack,” he said.
Once again Atletico’s dreams lie in ruins close to the final hurdle, after their two final defeats to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016.
Although this game comes four years down the line, it still highlights Atletico’s traditional failings.
In 2014, they took the lead against their bitter local rivals with a Diego Godin header and then looked to defend their lead only for Sergio Ramos to cancel it out in the 93rd minute and for Real to then run them ragged in injury time.
2016 saw Real Madrid take the lead in the 16th minute. It was only when they needed to get back into the game that Atletico looked to take the initiative and they then outplayed their neighbors with Yannick Carrasco equalizing only for Real to win a title that Atletico deserved on penalties.
On Thursday, Atletico again struggled to take the initiative and sat back as Leipzig moved the ball swiftly before Del Olmo opened the scoring after the break.
The introduction of Joao Felix sparked life into Atletico, who went on the attack, produced 20 minutes of impressive football and equalized with a penalty from the young Portuguese.
But rather than press on Atletico, either through tiredness or tactics, again sat back and it was Adams who sealed the win.
Fortune smiled on Atletico in the previous round as they stared defeat in the face at Anfield and were again forced to attack and with Marcos Llorente proving to be their inspiration, but once again it was only when they really needed to that Diego Simeone’s side began to press forward and play attacking football.
It is easy to criticize Simeone for his defensive instincts, but in La Liga against sides with smaller budgets, more often than not Atletico get over the line, with their organization and talent grinding rivals down.
His sides are well drilled, motivated and know exactly what they are doing on the pitch and he has been able to keep Atletico from going stale for almost nine years, which is no mean achievement.
Simeone has taken Atletico to two Europa League titles, two Champions League finals, and they won La Liga in 2014 – a year when both Real Madrid and Barca underperformed. He has assured the club’s financial future by ensuring they qualify for the Champions League year after year when the seasons before his arrival saw them habitually fail to qualify for Europe.
“If it wasn’t for Simeone, Atletico would be Valencia,” commented one journalist on ‘Twitter’ on Thursday, in reference to another Spanish powerhouse that habitually punches under their weight against a backdrop of organizational chaos.
Perhaps it’s telling that their Europe League wins came after being knocked out of the group stage of the Champions League by more flamboyant opponents.
Simeone’s style of football will take Atletico to the brink of major success, but unless they show the courage and the ability to throw off their defensive chains, they will find themselves seeing glory, but without touching it themselves.
That is a shame, because as they showed for 15 minutes on Thursday, as they showed at Anfield, and as they showed in 2016 when they do attack, they are actually quite good at it.