Atlético did secure the return of Diego Costa from Chelsea, the man whose partnership with David Villa helped lead them to their improbable league title success in 2013/14. But when he returns in January, will his fate be any different from that of his fellow attackers? There’s so much potential going forward, yet Simeone refuses to let the reins on his players go. Whether the opponent is Barcelona or Levante, it’s the same strategy. Sit tight, concede more than half of possession to your opponent (Atléti have average 47% possession this season), then counter. It’s worked so well in the past to his credit, but you can tell from his players’ collective body language that they want to be a bit more adventurous. It’s for that reason why players like Griezmann, Koke and Carrasco might be better served to go elsewhere if things don’t change.

Atletico Madrid’s French forward Antoine Griezmann (L) and Atletico Madrid’s Spanish forward Diego Costa take part in a training session at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid on October 30, 2017, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League group C football match between Atletico Madrid and Qarabag. / AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

From 2012 until the end of the 2015/16 season, Atlético frustrated opposing teams like no other and reaped much success from it. Now, it simply appears that they’re frustrating themselves more than anyone else. The squad needs revamping, not just in terms of personnel, but identity as well. Their attack has become more predictable. And while their defence remains one of the sternest in Europe, with a top-notch goalkeeper anchoring the back line, many key defenders such as Juanfran, Filipe Luís and Diego Godín are aging. At some point, concentration levels will weaken with age and teams will find a way to figure you out when it matters most.

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When Simeone had the chance to leave in each of the last two summers, he should have followed his initial instincts. The job he has done at Atlético has been phenomenal, helping the club capture Europa League, Copa Del Rey and La Liga success. Along with Sevilla, they further asserted Spain’s dominance in the club game, proving Barcelona and Real Madrid weren’t the only major powers the country had to offer. But they’ve reached the full maximum of their potential as presently constituted and can go no further. If anything, they’re regressing and wasting the best years of their most promising players by sticking to the same ideologies as if they’re reaping the same benefits. This needs to be acknowledged and corrected before it worsens.

Things have gone stale and Atlético, as we’ve known them, have been past their expiry date for a while. Barring a sudden epiphany in El Cholo’s tactical approach, he might have to bite the bullet or bring in fresh weapons who will buy into his game plans through thick and thin. The time for change has not only come in Madrid, it’s been long overdue.

 

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