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Saturday December 17 2016
Atleti still Spain’s third force

Atletico Madrid may be victims of their own success, judging by the scrutiny of their recent poor form, yet Feargal Brennan believes Los Colchoneros will bounce back in 2017.

Atletico Madrid’s form has rapidly gone from a whispered subject into a full-blown discussion on whether or not their bubble has burst.

The answer is somewhere in between.

With just one win their last five La Liga games, including humbling defeats to Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Villarreal, it is clear that Diego Simeone’s side are in a poor run of form, having slipped down to sixth in the table.

Two of the biggest concerns in Atleti’s recent performances are lethargy and a lack of high pressing. They appear to have lost some of their trademark, streetwise approach, particularly in attack.

A key component of Atleti’s play has been their ability to smother and stifle their opponents high up the pitch, allowing their midfield to quickly gain possession and attack with real efficiency.

They are without a goal in their last three games, and opponents are becoming increasingly aware of Los Rojiblancos’ low confidence by hitting Atleti on the counterattack. Simeone has reacted to this slump in form by using all three substitutes in most of their recent games, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Despite the criticism, however, it’s also vital to assess Atleti’s performances – of which there are various betting markets offered – with a notion of realism.

While they have stuttered in La Liga, Atleti have been excellent in Europe all season, beating Bayern Munich to top spot in their group with a ruthless display in the Champions League. They remain dark horses to win the tournament, particularly given the inconsistency of Real and Barcelona, and the winter break will allow them to reset ahead of the knockout rounds.

This is another factor that will aid Atleti’s certain revival in 2017 as a lack of freshness and energy in their play has been evident, making a period of rest vital. Cholo needs to be able to rely on his squad displaying the necessary stamina and work rate for his style to be successfully implemented. A number of his players also had long European Championships in the summer and are consequently in need a break.

The other positive for Los Colchoneros is their consistent ability to produce and purchase talent that successfully integrates into their structure, an asset which has allowed the club to develop.

Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco have continued to progress under Simeone, becoming key squad members. Defender Jose Gimenez looks a real prospect in defence and Kevin Gameiro has settled into life at the Vicente Calderon very quickly, as well as looking like an excellent partner for Antoine Griezmann.

This ability to produce excellent young talent, reinvigorate established stars from within their own ranks and make signings with a sensible purpose have allowed to Atleti to become a permanent fixture alongside Real and Barca.

They have not made the same mistakes that clubs such as Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna have in their pursuit of La Liga’s upper echelones, nor do they struggle to replace lost talent like they used to.

A serious title tilt is beyond Atleti at this stage due to their own form and Real’s unblemished record to date, but they will have a definitive say at the end of the season. They have too much talent, character and hunger to fade in a significant way, and Simeone simply will not let it happen.

Atleti have established themselves as the third force in La Liga, not quite in a position to win the league this year, but they will come back with a bang in 2017. If they put together a consistent run, it will cause real concern across the city and also in Catalonia.

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