Diego Simeone masterminded another memorable Champions League night for Atletico Madrid at Anfield but they are off the pace in LaLiga.
Atletico Madrid’s thrilling Champions League extra-time triumph over Liverpool at Anfield already feels like an event belonging to another era.
As the days and weeks of sporting lockdown stretch on, we have Diego Simeone and his battle-hardened players to thank for tiding us over with a last, lingering memory of gripping sporting theatre.
When Jurgen Klopp’s post-match critique of Atleti’s reactive style – one that has served to make them a compelling and legitimate heavyweight of European football in the modern era – was put to Simeone, he offered his own interpretation.
“We try to exploit deficiencies in the opponent. That’s what we do,” he said, before adding, somewhat deliciously, “And we try to win, with all our soul.”
However, while most of the footballing world except Michael Owen joined in with the plaudits, it was tempting to wonder whether this very same approach has left Atleti running on empty domestically.
LaLiga paused with 11 matches to play, topped by Barcelona and Real Madrid despite the two superpowers enduring unremarkable campaigns. Atleti are languishing in sixth, so we felt it was worth teaming up with our friends at Opta to examine how the land lies at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atleti Family – we enjoyed a wonderful win at Anfield together. Now let’s beat the Covid-19 crisis together so that we can continue to collect unforgettable memories on the pitch. #StayAtHome
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) March 14, 2020
In all of their full seasons under Simeone, dating back to 2012-13, Atletico have never collected fewer points after 27 games than the 45 they have this time around.
Their next lowest was 52 points heading into the final stretch of 2016-17, where they promptly took 26 from the remaining 33 on offer and finished third. Do Simeone’s current vintage have a similar charge for the line in their locker?
They still rely on a solid defence, although the departure of the formidable Diego Godin to Inter has left a mark. A return of 11 clean sheets from 27 games is not to be sniffed at, although neighbours Real Madrid (13) and Getafe (12) have earned more shutouts.
The problem is those solid foundations are being forced to do more work because the goals have dried up.
A haul of 31 LaLiga goals is Atleti’s lowest at this stage of a season for 10 years. In fact, they have only scored 31 or fewer four times in their history after 27 matches.
The net result is 12 draws – at least three more than at the same point of any campaign over the past decade.
We’d like to give another round of applause to all the people who are working tirelessly to take care of us during this health crisis.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) March 18, 2020
Nevertheless, it is worth remembering we are judging Simeone by standards he has set himself – and what standards those are.
On Atletico’s all-time list, he has managed the second highest number of LaLiga matches (315) behind Luis Aragones (407).
Simeone is just three behind former Spain boss Aragones’ tally of 194 top-flight wins with the Rojoblancos.
It means his win percentage far outstrips any other long-serving incumbent. Indeed, victories in 60.6 per cent league matches in charge of Atleti can only be beaten by Otto Bumbel (66.7 per cent) and Antonio Briones (63.6 per cent), who oversaw 30 and 11 games respectively.
3 – Diego Simeone is the first Atletico manager to win a final against Real Madrid in three different competitions: Copa del Rey, Supercopa and UEFA Super Cup. Cholo. pic.twitter.com/czTRZRb1Bb
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 15, 2018
An unusually fired-up Alvaro Morata was on hand to score the winner on the night against Liverpool and spark those enduring celebrations.
Life has not always been so enjoyable at Atleti for the Spain striker but he is the club’s top scorer in LaLiga this season with eight goals.
Morata’s best overall campaign in Spain’s top flight came when he scored 15 for Real Madrid in 26 2016-17 appearances.
If there is disappointment regarding his overall numbers not being better, then it is not for the want of trying. Only Iago Aspas (30) has attempted more shots on target than Morata (27) this term.
In terms of the supply line, Angel Correa leads the way with six assists, needing just two to equal his best in Atletico colours from 2016-17.