Atletico Madrid moving forward by taking a step backwards

This season was always likely to be one of transition for Atletico Madrid, but Diego Simeone surely wanted to avoid the dips that saw the capital club spend much of the 2019/20 campaign outside of the top four. Indeed, the outlook for Atleti was bleak when the Spanish Liga season resumed after the coronavirus shutdown.

Since then, though, Atletico Madrid have found a rich vein of form and with Saturday’s 1-0 win over Real Betis Simeone took his side into the Champions League once again, with a top four finish now guaranteed. After a season which has seen Atleti fans pushed to the point of even questioning Simeone, this feels like an achievement after if, before the start of the campaign, it would have been the very minimum expected.

Simeone spoke about giving Atletico Madrid a new identity as a club and a team before the start of the season. Under the Argentine, Atleti had become the perfect manifestation of the underdog spirit, but it became harder and harder for Simeone to perpetuate this the more successful his side became. The construction of the club’s new state-of-the-art Wanda Metropolitano stadium also underlined their rise to the elite level of the game.

But by attempting to adopt a more expansive, dynamic style of play Simeone only managed to erode many of the principles that had raised Atletico Madrid to that stage in the first half. Toothless in attack and vulnerable at the back, Atleti went large periods of the season without offering much at all.

Now, though, they have reverted back to default. To move forward, Atleti have taken a step backwards by going back to what they know best. Their win over Real Betis on Saturday night was a largely dull and insipid affair, but it was a classic Atletico Madrid victory as they ground down their opponents. There have been a few of these sort of victories since the restart.

This might not be what Simeone envisages for Atletico Madrid’s long term future, but by going back to what he knows he has kept the club progressing. Champions League football will be back at the Wanda Metropolitano next season and with that the club has a platform to grow and evolve. Simeone has proved that the old Atleti are still in there somewhere.

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