The journey began back in 2011 when Diego Simeone succeeded Gregorio Manzano as Atletico Madrid boss, ending his first season as a Europa League winning manager following a 3-0 victory over Bilbao in the final.
The objection from there was simple: break the established order in La Liga. The red and blue side of Madrid had not won a league title since 1996 while there had not been a winner outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid since Rafa Benitez’s Valencia in 2004.
Then came the 2013/14 season, Atletico trumped Real Madrid and Barcelona to win the title on the final day thanks to a draw at the Nou Camp of all places.
To the disbelief of world football, Simeone did not adhere to the blueprint Pep Guardiola and Barca had masterminded in how to play football right. Possession was said to be key, if the opposition dont have the ball they can’t hurt you was the key ideal.
Simeone’s Atletico opposed playing the football the “right way”, instead they played it their way and got the right result.
In 2013/14 it was Gerardo Martino who was attempting to guide Barcelona to yet another title, carrying on from Pep and Tito Vilanova his ideals were plenty of goals and plenty of possession.
At the Vicente Calderon there was an emphasis on the other end, being solid defensively was they key and they happened to be the sternest defence in the league in their title winning campaign.
26 goals made their way past Thibaut Courtois that season, the best in the division, seven less than the side they pipped to the league title Barcelona, 33.
Attacking wise Atleti couldn’t compete with the firepower of their nearest rivals and Simeone recognised that. With 77 goals they were still some way clear in third but Real Madrid, 103, and Barcelona, 100, were well ahead.
Simeone proved it is not all about scoring at on end with his emphasis on being solid defensively paying off hugely in the form of a league trophy.
In the final game of the season it was a league decider between Barcelona and Atletico, Simeone’s men needed just a draw, for the Catalans it was all or nothing.
A Diego Godin header early in the second half was enough to cancel out Alexis Sanchez’s earlier goal and send the title to Madrid.
However, the Catalans held the ball for 64% of the time, yet they were unable to make that possession pay and turn it to tangible goals. Instead the 36% possession for Atleti was enough to win the title.
Now two years on we could be set to see something similar unfold in the Spanish top flight, Barcelona’s three game blip has opened the door to both Madrid sides to snatch the title that looked wrapped up only a couple of weeks ago.
Currently, Luis Enrique and his side sit top on 85 points only ahead of Atletico on their head to head record with Real a further point back, all having two games to play.
Simeone, despite a sub par season last year, has persisted with his style of play and yet again it looks to be reaping the rewards.
They are eighth in the possession standings in La Liga with an average of 49.6%, at home that figure is 54.8% while away from home the team aiming for two titles in three years have just 44.3% possession.
Naturally Barcelona are top of the standings with an average of 65.4% with Real Madrid behind them with 57.4%.
We have been told throughout the past decade or so that possession wins football matches, there are even books about the concept one titled “Possession: Play football the Spanish way”.
Diego Simeone is currently in the process of ripping up those books as are Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City with their success story in the Premier League this season.
In the Premier League this season leaders Leicester City are in the relegation zone in terms of possession with just 44%, who tops that list? Arsenal of course.
Atletico may well go on to win their second title in three years and achieve that goal of breaking the established order but the Champions League offers Simeone a chance to down the man who brought Tiki-Taka football to the fore.
Simeone may have beaten Barcelona to the title, a Barcelona that were playing a very similar style to the Pep Guardiola sides that came before but he never managed to win a trophy over a Pep Guardiola team in full Tiki-Taka mode.
Guardiola made the possession way of football what it is through his time at Barcelona and now in his final year at Bayern he is trying to prove it is still the right way to play.
“People say that ball possession might not be the most important thing but for me, it is the most important thing,” Guardiola told reporters after his side’s 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal.
“What I want, my desire, is to have 100 per cent possession,” the Spaniard added.
We saw mid-week when Bayern came to Vicente Calderon they were there to play with the ball. Atletico were not and through a Saul Niguez goal managed to secure a pivotal 1-0 victory.
Atletico had 26% on the night, a remarkably low figure for a winning side playing at home in a Champions League semi-final. Guardiola’s men had all the ball but couldn’t make it pay.
The second-leg will likely be a similar affair and a chance for Simeone to truly prove his style and tactics are just as effective as the Guardiola way of play.
Not just in La Liga have Atletico conceded possession, in the Champions League their average possession through all the games is 47%. Of the 32 teams entered in the competition, 24 have a better possession average than the potential finalists.
Their strength yet again comes in defence having conceded just five times, the joint best along with rivals and fellow semi-finalists Real Madrid.
Diego Simeone’s tenure as Atletico boss has been remarkable, he has blown away the notion that possession is everything in football and should he win La Liga and dump Guardiola’s Bayern out of the Champions League he will have well and truly changed the landscape of European football.