Why Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid Must Evolve From Defensive Over-Achievers to Reach the Top Level

?Atletico Madrid’s rise to stand among the superpowers of European football has been a remarkable achievement, but Diego Simeone must shake off the defensive shackles in order for his side to reach the next level.

Traditionally unable to compete with esteemed domestic rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, technically or financially, Simeone’s battle to elevate his side alongside the top sides both of Spanish football and the continent was always going to be a war of attrition.


Work ethic, gritty determination and an abundance of resourcefulness have been key to ?Atletico’s recent rise to the forefront of Europe’s top sides. Prior to Simeone’s arrival as manager in 2011, Los Rojiblancos had not won a La Liga title since 1995/96.

Atletico had managed to win the Europa League in 2009/10, but cracking the top tier of Europe’s elite had proved to be much more difficult, as the shadows cast by ?Barcelona and ?Real Madrid loomed large over Madrid’s ‘second’ club.

However, in recent years Simeone has ingrained his personality and determination to succeed on his side, and provided a renewed and improved identity for the club that he represented in two different spells during his playing career.

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Atletico’s grit and resilience in recent years have largely been a reflection of their manager, with their defensive work widely regarded as among the best in Europe, and has established them as one of the hardest sides to beat on the continent.

Those qualities have seen Los Rojiblancos remarkably go on to win a first La Liga title in 18 years in the 2013/14 season, and that success was preceded by a Europa League triumph during Simeone’s first season in charge in 2011/12.

Arguably the greatest sign of Atletico’s progress under the Argentine was reaching two Champions League finals in the space of three seasons between 2013/14 and 2015/16. Though Los Rojiblancos lost to Real Madrid on both occasions, their progress was abundantly clear.


However, since emerging as one of Europe’s top sides in recent times, that progress has largely stalled, as Atletico have failed to take the next step to the very top.

Los Rojiblancos finished above Real Madrid in La Liga last season, but that was the first time that they managed to finish higher than third in the table since they won the title five seasons ago.

In Europe, Simeone’s side have also stalled, if not taken a step backwards. Last season’s Europa League triumph was another trophy to add to the recent collection, but did not live up to the achievement of reaching Champions League finals in previous years.

Cristiano Ronaldo

This season, Atletico’s infamous grit and resolve looked to put them on course to eliminating one of the competition’s favourites in ?Juventus in the round of 16. However, a lack of bravery and initiative saw the Spaniards surrender a 2-0 lead from the first leg and suffer a 3-2 aggregate defeat in the Champions League.

That tie largely represented the difference between Atletico’s potential and their actual ability to reach the next level with their current methods.

Instead of imposing their advantage from the first leg and seeing the result through, Atletico fell victim to their own reserved approach and unwillingness to take control. Simeone went defensive in Turin and ?Cristiano Ronaldo punished him for it – and his celebrations said it all.

Atletico are no longer the side on the periphery of Spanish football’s best, operating on a minimal budget and looking to punch above their weight. Recent successes have elevated them above that level, but Simeone’s emphasis on defence and the dark arts is now holding them back from taking the next step to become a truly dominant force in Spain and Europe.

Los Rojiblancos no longer have an average squad which depends so wholly on streetwise tactics. They boast an all-star lineup which consists of some of the best attacking talents on the continent, yet Simeone’s team selections continue to ensure a self-imposed negativity.

Antoine Griezmann often appears at his best when surrounded by attacking support, such as ?Kylian Mbappe in the French national team. However, alongside one, less mobile strike partner ahead of a flat midfield four, Griezmann is so often left isolated up front for Atletico.

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Nicolas Guitan, Gelson Martins, Jackson Martinez, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and, most recently, Thomas Lemar are among the attacking stars signed by Simeone in recent years, only to be discarded shortly after due to his favouring of defence-minded players.

More often than not this season, particularly in big games, Saul Niguez and Koke have been deployed on the flanks of a flat midfield four – despite both being better suited in the middle of the park.

These tactics enforce a fundamentally negative approach, detaching the midfield from the attack and often leaving Atletico devoid of fluidity and freedom going forward.


The approach has been the blueprint in enabling Atletico to dig in and punch above their weight, often enabling them to reach heights which hardly seemed possible in previous years under Simeone, but Los Rojiblancos are now of a higher stature and should aim to perform as such.

The move from the Vicente Calderon to the state-of-the-art Wanda Metropolitano last season appeared to be the final step towards Atletico cementing their status as a European superpower, but their team mentality remains a backwards hindrance.

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Simeone must give his side the freedom to express the true quality that is bustling throughout their ranks to truly reflect their achievements and progress in the last decade, and to allow them to take the next step to the very highest level.

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Chievo 1-3 Napoli: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Partenopei Win at a Canter Against I Gialloblu

?Napoli never really left second gear as they won comfortably against now relegated Chievo on Sunday evening, as they put more distance between themselves and Inter in the race for second in Serie A.

Two goals from centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and a stunning long range effort from Arkadiusz Milik were enough to see off a Chievo side who offered little throughout this match. Napoli had a number of chances to extend their lead but were wasteful in front of goal at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. 

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Chievo captain Cesar scored with the last kick of the game, but this was simply a consolation goal as the Gialloblu were relegated from Serie A following this result.

Here’s 90min’s breakdown of the game.


Chievo

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Sorrentino (5); Depaoli (5), Cesar (6), Andreolli (5), Barba (5); Hetemaj (6)Diousse (5), Giaccherini (6) Vignato (5); Stepinski (5), Meggiorini (5)

Substitutions: Leris (5), Grubac (6), Kiyine (5)


Napoli

Key Talking Point

Napoli won this game comfortably, appearing to be at a canter for much of the match with Chievo never really troubling the Partenopei. But, Napoli could have boosted their goal difference here, as they wasted several good chances to really put Chievo to the sword.

With a midweek match ahead where Napoli need goals, Carlo Ancelotti would have wanted his side to wet their appetite here against the side from the bottom of Serie A. Napoli won the game by a three goal margin, but it seemed that Ancelotti’s players were worried about getting injured ahead of their crunch clash against ?Arsenal on Thursday and never got into top gear.

Lorenzo Insigne

Ancelotti will be hoping that his team bring their shooting boots with them to the Europa League, as despite creating a number of good opportunities here, they failed to find the back of the net with regularity.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Ospina (6); Hysaj (6), Chiriches (6), Koulibaly (9)*, Ghoulam (7); Callejon (7), Ruiz (6), Zielinski (8) Insigne (7); Mertens (8), Milik (7)

Substitutions: Allan (6), Younes (6), Verdi (6)


Star Man

Koulibaly is well-known for his defensive prowess and against Chievo he gave spectators a real showing.

But fans also witnessed his attacking ability at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi as Koulibaly imposed himself on the Chievo defence at set plays. The Senegal international opened the scoring after 15 minutes as he deftly guided a near post header past the stranded Stefano Sorrentino in the home side’s goal following a dangerous cross by ?Dries Mertens.

Kaldou Koulibaly

He then added to his tally in the 81st minute with a strong finish following a corner, ending the game with two goals but having lost his clean sheet.

If Napoli are to progress further in the Europa League, they are going to need Koulibaly on top form as he not only stops goals being scored, he knocks them in too.


Looking Ahead

Carlo Ancelotti

?Napoli’s next match in ?Serie A is against high scoring Atalanta, which could be a tricky fixture, even if the Partenopei are at home. Before that though, Ancelotti and his men have the task of overturning a two goal deficit when ?Arsenal visit on Thursday in the Europa League quarter-final second leg, as Napoli look to win the competition and end the season with some silverware.

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Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Salah Screamer Secures Vital Win for Reds

Liverpool were able to keep pace with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League with a vital 2-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday evening.

Liverpool dominated possession during the first half, but they found it difficult to break down a resolute Chelsea side, who set themselves up well to deal with the Reds’ rapid attack.

Mohamed Salah,Emerson

Undeterred by a difficult start, Liverpool sprung out of the traps in the second period and were able to find the opening goal through Sadio Mane. After some neat footwork, Jordan Henderson floated a ball across the box and the Senegalese forward headed into an empty goal.

Liverpool’s lead was doubled shortly after in sensational style. Mohamed Salah evaded Emerson on the right wing, cut inside and unleashed a rocket, which sailed into the top right corner, leaving Kepa Arrizabalaga grasping at thin air.

Sadio Mane,Virgil van Dijk,Roberto Firmino,Mohamed Salah

Eden Hazard had two clear cut opportunities to pull a goal back for Chelsea, but he spurned both, first being denied by the post and then by Alisson. That was as close as it got for the Blues and Liverpool held firm to secure the three points.

Check out the full breakdown of the evening’s events below.


?LIVERPOOL

Key Talking Point

As is going to be the case for every game between now and the end of the season, nothing less than a win was going to cut it for ?Liverpool in this one.

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The Reds certainly found it tricky to break down Chelsea during a frustrating first half, but they maintained their composure and reaped the rewards – just as they have done so many times over the past few months. After some underwhelming performances, the Reds look to be hitting their best form of the season at just the right time and there is a very real chance they could potentially go all the way.

Manchester City still have the upper hand in the title race, but Liverpool will be confident that they can secure maximum points from their remaining games. The title race is going right to the wire and you can only be sure of one thing – it’s going to be explosive.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Alisson (7); Alexander-Arnold (7), Matip (7), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (6); Fabinho (8), Henderson (7), Keita (7); Salah (8*), Mane (7), Firmino (7).

Substitutes: Wijnaldum (6), Milner (6), Shaqiri (N/A).


Star Man – Mohamed Salah

There’s no denying the fact that ?Salah hasn’t been at his best in recent weeks, but the diminutive Egyptian silenced his critics with a sensational performance in this one. He was a constant threat down the right flank, tearing past Emerson with ease time and time again, whilst also tracking back to nullify the threat of Willian.

And that’s not mentioning his goal. He’s scored some memorable long range strikes during his time with the Reds but this once tops the lot, and then some. It was nothing short of sensational.

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CHELSEA

Key Talking Point

Finishing in the top four is entirely in ?Chelsea’s hands and Maurizio Sarri would have been well aware that a win would see the Blues build a crucial five point gap over Manchester United in fifth place.

Maurizio Sarri

The result is a little harsh on Chelsea because they set themselves up well to stifle Liverpool, and on another day, they would have been able to find the back of the net at least once. The biggest criticism you can have about the Blues’ performance was that they didn’t offer enough support to ?Hazard at the top end of the pitch, especially from out wide.

Given how strong Liverpool have been at home in recent seasons, the result is far from disastrous, but it does put a lot of pressure on the crunch match against Manchester United at the end of the month.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Kepa (6), Azpilicueta (6), Luiz (5), Rudiger (6), Emerson (5); Kante (6), Jorginho (5), Loftus-Cheek (6*); Hudson-Odoi (4), Willian (4), Hazard (6).

Substitutes: Christensen (6), Higuain (4), Barkley (5).


Star Man – Ruben Loftus-Cheek

?Loftus-Cheek has struggled to maintain a regular starting XI spot so far this season, but he was Chelsea’s most influential player this time around, using his physicality to great effect.

He bridged the gap between defence and attack very well and was at the heart of some of Chelsea’s most promising attacks. Sarri still seems to be unsure over the young midfielder, but he’s a much better option than the likes of Mateo Kovacic.



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Looking Ahead

Liverpool will be looking to book their spot in the Champions League semi-finals for the second consecutive season as they travel to face Porto on Wednesday.

Chelsea are also in European action, welcoming Slavia Prague to Stamford Bridge in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final clash.

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Ryan Fraser Reveals Arsenal Transfer Rumours as Cause for His Poor Recent Form at Bournemouth

?Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser has admitted that speculation linking him with a summer switch to Arsenal might have been the reason behind his poor recent form.

The Scottish winger went a month without getting a goal or assist and has revealed that talk about his future has been a factor in the drop in his performance level.

Ryan Fraser

Speaking about the impact of the rumours to the BBC ahead of Bournemouth’s 5-0 victory over Brighton on Saturday, Fraser said: “Maybe it hasn’t helped. Subconsciously, you might think about it. I’m just trying to get on with my work.

“The best thing I can do is play well. I need to get back to scoring, assisting and winning and then what will be, will be.”

The 25-year-old did just that on Saturday afternoon, returning to his best in Bournemouth’s 5-0 demolition of Brighton at the Amex Stadium.

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Fraser scored once and set up two more as the Cherries picked up their first win since Fraser’s last goal in a 2-0 victory away at Huddersfield Town at the beginning of March.

That performance is sure to impress Arsenal boss Unai Emery who is keen to add more pace and creativity out wide for the Gunners next season.

The Scotland international certainly provides plenty of that and is a proven threat to opposition defences, having scored eight and assisted a further 12 goals this season.

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Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe will be desperate to keep him at the club for next season although he faces a fight to hold on to the likes of Fraser, Callum Wilson and David Brooks, whose impressive performances this season have alerted other top flight sides.

At the very least Howe will hope that any talk on their future does not continue to affect them for the rest of this season, as he seeks to secure a top 10 position for the South Coast side.

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West Ham Consider Signing Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge as Search for Target Man Continues

?West Ham United officials have discussed the possibility of signing Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge, as they look to bring in a new leading striker.

The likes of Marko Arnautovic, Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez have all been linked with moves away from the club this summer, meaning West Ham could be on the lookout for at least one new forward.

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According to the ?Daily Mail, the Hammers see Sturridge as a potential candidate for a summer transfer.

The 29-year-old is set to become a free agent when his ?Liverpool contract expires at the end of the season, meaning he could be a bargain pick-up for the ?Hammers.

They have long been pursuing Celta Vigo hit-man Maxi Gomez, who has a £43.5m release clause in his contract. However, with ?Tottenham Hotspur also said to be chasing Gomez, West Ham have been forced to look around for potential alternatives.

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?Fulham’s ?Aleksandar Mitrovic and Roma’s Edin Dzeko have both been looked at, as has Jean-Kevin Augustin of RB Leipzig, but a free move for Sturridge could prove to be a very attractive prospect.

West Ham may find themselves needing a handful of new strikers, as ?Arnautovic continues to be linked with a move to China, whilst there are also doubts about the long-term future of both ?Hernandez and Lucas Perez. Towering forward ?Carroll also appears to be nearing the exit once his contract expires in the summer.

Sturridge has found himself towards the bottom of the pecking order at Anfield this season. He has managed just four goals and two assists in all competitions, although he has done so with just six starts to his name.

Daniel Sturridge

His time at Liverpool appears to be coming to an end, and the likes of ?Leicester City and ?Newcastle United have both been linked with a move for Sturridge. It is expected that he will have plenty of suitors from the ?Premier League, given his record in the competition in the past.

His finest season came in the 2013/14 campaign, in which Sturridge racked up an impressive 22 goals in 29 appearances. However, he has struggled greatly with injuries in recent seasons, and could be keen on a fresh start at a new club.

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