Considering the success Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone have enjoyed during the Argentine’s five-year tenure at the club, this season so far has been a disappointing and frustrating one for all at the Vicente Calderon.
Los Rojiblancos have reached a final in every year Simeone has been Coach and of the past four campaigns have finished third three times and won the League once. At this moment in time, though, they lie in fourth place, more concerned about dropping out of the Champions League places than they are about improving their La Liga position.
Sunday’s 1-2 loss to Barcelona means that they are now seven points off Sevilla in third and only a point above Real Sociedad (before the midweek matches). With Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in fine form between the sticks for the Catalans, Atleti could not find a way through in their early spell of pressure, costing them dearly when Lionel Messi grabbed a late winner, leaving Simeone exasperated on the touchline.
"We need to remain calm and my objective hasn't changed since I arrived at the club,” he encouraged after the game. “We now need to think about the matches against Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia and Granada and think that way up until the final five matches of the season, at which point we'll see what we can do.”
With elimination from the Copa del Rey in the semi-finals against the same old foes they faced on Sunday, the Champions League represents the only trophy that Los Colchoneros can lift this season, and it also gives them to chance to avenge the heartbreak from two final defeats in the space of just three years.
Last week’s 2-4 win in the first leg of the last-16 tie versus Bayer Leverkusen certainly gives them a very good chance of progressing to the next round, and the combination of the experience of reaching a final and losing in it twice could be a very dangerous mix for the teams they come up against throughout the competition.
To eliminate Europe’s elite though, the strike partnership of Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro must be performing, which has been happening as of late. Earlier in the campaign they were banging them in for club and country, but the Frenchmen have gone through droughts at different points and have not reached the levels that they did last time around, when Griezmann bagged 32 in all competitions and Gameiro not far off with 29.
There have been promising signs recently that their partnership could blossom again- Gameiro came off the bench at Sporting Gijon and scored a hat-trick with an excellent assist from Griezmann and they looked menacing in Leverkusen too, both of them grabbing a goal. The issue is whether or not they can do it together against the best sides, which is something that will only come with time.
The season has not gone the way Simeone would have hoped, but there is still an opportunity for success if Griezmann and Gameiro can become the consistent, lethal partnership that they very well could be.