When Radamel Falcao scored a last minute winner – his first ever goal from a free-kick – at Anoeta in October Atletico Madrid proved, in beating Real Sociedad 1-0, that they could win without being at their best. Nearly four months later and another last minute goal arrived after a poor display, again from Falcao and this time away to Rayo Vallecano, but with one difference – it was merely a consolation.
It continued a worrying trend that has put out any fire suggesting Atleti may be able to challenge Barcelona for the La Liga title. A trend of poor away performances.
While Los Rojiblancos have been all but perfect at home, they are now without a win away from the Vicente Calderon since November 11, when they won 1-0 at Granada. Since that victory they have lost four and drawn one of their five League matches on the road.
Admittedly the first two of those games were against Real Madrid and Barcelona but since the new year – they also lost at Valencia before Christmas – it is the downturn in not just results, but also performances that are aggravating Atleti fans.
If Mallorca's late equaliser at the start of the year was bad, then Athletic Bilbao's – who were excellent admittedly – 3-0 drubbing of Diego Simeone's men was worse and last weekend's defeat at local rivals Rayo, as good as they have been this season, was a game they should not be losing, or at least that is what we have been led to believe since Simeone took charge over one year ago.
Falcao's absence from two of those games – Mallorca and Athletic – may be offered as an excuse, but the problem runs deeper than just his absence, as ratified in the Rayo game with the Colombian present. Atletico are not hitting the heights which are regularly hit at the Calderon, their style looks disjointed from that which has been hallmarked by El Cholo in his tenure – the last two games especially have shown a lack of defensive discipline.
The Argentinean Coach doesn't see it as a problem though, at least not openly. After their most recent away defeat he admitted: “[Atleti] didn't enter the field in the first half,” but he remained unaffected, adding he is “not concerned by the away form.”
Supporting his words is the fact that it is hardly new terrain for Atletico. Last season, travelling proved difficult as they won just four away games in La Liga, a figure they've already matched this season and, with another eight matches to come, they will surely better by the time the season ends in June.
On Sunday evening they're again on their travels, as this time they head north to face a Real Valladolid side who, in their first season back in the Primera, have lost just three times at home and have picked up seven points from their last three League matches at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla.
It will be a test of not just their depth, but also their ability to rotate following Thursday night's shock 2-0 defeat to Rubin Kazan in the Europa League. Fielding their strongest side to date in the competition including Falcao, Arda Turan and Diego Godin, they displayed worrying signs that away day blues may even be about to catch up with their home form.
Last time Atletico were second at Christmas, under Javier Aguirre, they experienced a collapse that saw them sneak fourth courtesy of their head-to-head record against Sevilla, so forgive their fans for not taking Simeone's word about wobbly away results seriously. In fact, failure to win at Valladolid and more dropped points and another similar comment may sound rather puerile.