Failure to win against Roma on Wednesday night in Matchday 5 of the Champions League will all but end Atletico Madrid’s interest in the competition.
Los Rojiblancos have failed to win any of their four games to date and face a group stage exit for the first time since 2009.
Diego Simeone’s men were naturally favoured to progress into the knockout stages despite Group C having a rather competitive look about it.
However, a lack of form in Europe – also evident in domestic competition – and Roma’s surprisingly strong showing thus far sees them on the verge of an ignominious exit.
While the home defeat to Chelsea clearly didn’t help their cause, it’s the back to back draws with minnows Qarabag of Azerbaijan that look set to consign Atleti to the Europa League after Christmas.
So used to competing at the very highest level, captain Gabi couldn’t hide his disgust at their likely fate in recently describing UEFA’s second tier tournament rather unkindly as a “piece of sh*t”. But that’s where they are likely to find themselves, and frankly, they’ll have little cause for complaint.
Saturday night’s scoreless draw with Real Madrid will only have added to the sense of unease at the club. Normally, sharing the spoils with their mighty neighbours would be considered a decent night’s work.
But with Barcelona 11 points clear of the two Madrid giants at start of play, a win was imperative for both sides. In the end, the draw helped neither. And for Diego Simeone’s men, the result and performance reflected some troubling themes.
Los Rojiblancos may have extended their unbeaten start to the domestic season to 12 games, but this was their sixth draw– and draws are killing them.
And while they recorded another clean sheet and have only conceded six times in the league, their failure to score sees them stuck on a paltry 16 goals for the season, 17 fewer than the league leaders.
When you factor in that five of those goals came in a late August thrashing of Las Palmas, Simeone’s men have only averaged a worrying goal a game in their other 11 matches.
The statistics are troubling. In the Champions League, 78 shots but have yielded only 2 goals – a conversion rate of 2.6%, one of the worst in the competition. Domestically, they are also struggling to create and take chances.
This season they are averaging just 11 chances per game compared to 13.3 last term. And Antoine Griezmann’s lack of goals and form has been a cause of concern. Saturday night made it eight games without a goal in a season where he’s only managed three across all competitions.
Defensively, their record continues to look strong. But there is evidence that here too they are creaking. With the number of shots on target they are facing increasing from 2.7 to 4 per game over the last two seasons, it would appear that opponents are finding it a little easier to get at them.
Indeed, they’ve looked increasingly uncertain when defending set pieces and defensive kingpin Diego Godin has been surprisingly error prone. If Jan Oblak weren’t consistently excellent between the sticks, the picture could look a lot worse.
Clearly we are not talking of a total collapse here. Atleti are still strong and competitive – but at the same time, they seem to lack their usual ferocity.
FIFA’s transfer ban has played a part. Unable to bring in players for the last two windows, Simeone hasn’t been able to develop his squad and bring in fresh legs and fresh talent.
But the apparent drop off in intensity might also suggest that some at the club may be either unwilling or unable to do the manager’s bidding.
The ban will be lifted in January and €100 million in reinforcements in the form of Diego Costa and Vitolo will arrive. Both will bring greater attacking options and intent. Both should also bring goals, easing the pressure on the struggling Griezmann, who in fairness has been starved of service.
The new men should help rectify that situation. And Simeone will also hope that Costa’s own bristling intensity will prove infectious, reinvigorating a squad that has been strangely passive this term.