Milan defeat underlines that Atletico Madrid don’t have a Plan B

When Junior Messias headed past Jan Oblak in the 87th minute of Milan’s visit to the Wanda Metropolitano last night, it was a neat summary of all that has gone wrong for Atletico Madrid so far this season.

Coming down from the high of winning La Liga with a bump, results have not been as good as hoped and their European escapade has been disastrous, with the team sitting bottom of Champions League Group B with four points from a possible 15.

Wednesday evening underlined Atletico’s fatal weaknesses. Right from the start, it was clear that they’ve lacked a Plan B all season long. Marcos Llorente is one of the team’s most dynamic attacking players, but he started while far from full fitness as a wing-back simply because Kieran Trippier is out injured and nobody trusts Sime Vrsaljko in his absence.

If that wasn’t enough, Diego Simeone’s changes and substitutions only served to complicate matters for the home side. With each change came a new system, and the team went back to square one in their attempts to gain a foothold.

64 minutes: Renan Lodi came on. The back three became a back four. Yannick Carrasco was shifted forwards, and suddenly even more of Atletico’s play was directed down the left.

77 minutes: Vrsaljko came on. Llorente was moved forward into the middle of the park to try to win the midfield battle, which Atletico were losing spectacularly.

81 minutes: Geoffrey Kondogbia came on. The front four became a front three, and Koke was moved around yet again with Llorente also adapting to a three-man midfield.

Teams must, of course, be flexible and adapt to the needs of a game. But in the space of 17 minutes, Atletico twice changed formation, shape and structure.

It showed a lack of a Plan B on the night, as it was pure improvisation from Simeone. “I’m always the first to explain if I get it wrong, but the changes were to freshen up,” he explained after the loss.

It’s not the first time this season either. Atletico’s approach of last campaign is no longer as new and hard to defend against, and teams have begun to pick holes in the defence as a result of the new-found focus on attack. 

Even recognising these mistakes and flaws isn’t to say that Simeone has failed or was outsmarted. He got this one wrong. He’s a coach who has evolved and improved his team throughout his reign at the club, but now he needs to do it again.

Atletico face an identity struggle as they evolve into a more offensive side, and they need to overcome the challenges of teams adapting to their new style without reverting back to old habits. If they are to do that effectively, they need to develop a Plan B. On Wednesday night, it became clear that Simeone hasn’t quite decided what that is yet.

Tags Atletico Madrid Champions League Diego Simeone La Liga

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