Is Alvaro Morata good enough to lead the line for Atletico Madrid?

Atletico Madrid have turned their season around somewhat since the resumption of the Liga season, with a strong run of form carrying them up to third place in the table. While the capital club not so long ago looked set to miss out on a place in the top four and Champions League qualification, they are now within touching distance of pulling up a seat at European club football’s top table again.

Of course, Atleti wanted much more than just a top four place this season. The original aim was to challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid for the title. Both sides are going through generational transitions and so many saw the door to be open for Atletico Madrid. They too have gone through a transitional season, though.

The conversion of Marcos Llorente into an attacker over the last few weeks has been a revelation. The former Real Madrid man has been exceptionally influential higher up the pitch, hitting a rich vein of form that started with his brace in Atletico Madrid’s Champions League win over Liverpool at Anfield before the coronavirus shutdown struck.

Alongside Llorente, Diego Simeone has largely favoured Diego Costa. The former Chelsea striker looks to have found fitness and form again since the restart, with Simeone using Costa as a battering ram to use next to the more creative Llorente. So what place does Alvaro Morata now have at the Wanda Metropolitano?

The 27-year-old has been rotated in and out of Simeone’s side over the last few weeks, vindicating the decision to hand him a start against Real Mallorca with a brace in a 3-0 win. Before that, though, Morata had been struggling for form, with his only goal since the restart coming in a 5-0 demolition of Osasuna.

There’s no suggestion that Simeone will look to move Morata on, with the striker only signing permanently from Chelsea in the January window, but there are questions over who will lead Atletico Madrid in the long-term. Edinson Cavani, who is now a free agent after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has been strongly linked with a move to the club. Would Morata be knocked further down the pecking order in the case of Cavani’s arrival? Is the Spanish international good enough to be Atleti’s first choice centre forward? And if he is, how will he fit in?

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Have Barcelona just conceded the La Liga title to Real Madrid?

Real Madrid are now the odds on favourites to win La Liga after Barcelona drew 2-2 at home against Atletico Madrid in an entertaining match.

Barcelona are looking at a hat trick of titles but their fierce rivals Real look like they will stop them. Barca have dominated in Spain of late winning 4 of the last five, in the last decade they have won 7 titles alone.

Whilst Real Madrid have dominated on the European scene in the last decade winning 4 Champions Leagues, including three in a row they have failed mostly on the domestic front. Though in 2017 they broke the Barca stranglehold by winning the title which is, up to this point, coach Zinedine Zidane’s only managerial league title.

At the beginning of the season with Zidane coming back and the soap opera of Gareth Bale will he won’t he leave it was thought that Real were going to experience a season of transition, however they look stun to set everyone if they can wrap up the title this season. It could well go amongst Zidane’s very best achievements of his glittering career given that many thought Madrid could be playing second fiddle to not only Barcelona but Atletico Madrid also.

As it stands Real are top by just one point but they have a game extra to play which takes place on Thursday, July 2nd. It is a home game against Getafe which they will be expected to win with ease.

Win that and they will go 4 points clear with just five games left to play. Barca have been a mess lately where they have drawn 3 of their last four games and dropped vital points. In the game against Atletico there was 3 penalties, one for Lionel Messi but Saul converted 2 goals from the spot for Atletico and that was enough to take 2 points from Barcelona. Indeed Atletico then had a chance to win the game and put even more misery on Barca.

If another clasico remained between the two clubs then the league would not feel as over as it does now. At least then Barca could stake their claim and give it one last try. But the two teams have already met each other. Real’s remaining games all look winnable and yet of course you never quite know what will happen. Lose to Getafe tomorrow and everything changes again. But for now it looks like Real are in the driving seat to win their 34th Spanish title.

 

 

Has Diego Simeone finally figured out how and where to use Marcos Llorente?

It could be that Atletico Madrid’s 5-0 win over Osasuna earlier in the week is looked back upon as a turning point in the career of Marcos Llorente. Lured from Real Madrid last summer, the addition of Llorente was deemed as quite a coup for Atleti. Llorente is a talented young midfielder who many see as one of Spanish football’s best hopes for the future.

And yet Diego Simeone didn’t seem to know what to do with the 25-year-old for the first two thirds of the season. Competition is currently stiff for midfield places in the Atletico Madrid squad and Llorente soon found himself down the pecking order behind the likes of Koke, Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey.

Something has changed, though. Simeone had some time to think about Llorente’s role in the Atleti team over the coronavirus shutdown and has subsequently deployed in a new position in the last two games. Used as more of an attacker than a midfielder, Llorente drove Atletico Madrid to two very important wins in back-to-back games.

Introduced off the bench for the final 30 minutes against Osasuna, Llorente scored and contributed two assists in a 5-0 win that represented Atletico Madrid’s best performance of the Liga season so far. And the 25-year-old followed it up with an impressive display in a win over Real Valladolid days later.

It would appear that Simeone has unlocked Llorente’s inherent creativity and invention by moving him higher up the pitch. While he has been previously used as a number six and a number eight, it’s as something closer to a number 10 that Llorente has finally found his place in the Atletico Madrid team.

This conversion could be a game-changer for Atletico Madrid as they attempt to rescue a difficult season. This season was always going to be one of transition for the capital club, with Simeone more than once referencing his desire to change Atleti’s style of play and identity as a whole.

Saturday’s win over Real Valladolid lifted them up to third place over Sevilla, significantly boosting their chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League when just a few matches ago they had a lot of work to do. And if Atletico Madrid are to take their seat at European club football’s top table again it will be Llorente who has helped them do so.

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Is this the year Atletico Madrid win the Champions League?

One team that will certainly be hoping that the football season is not abandoned and thus there being no Champions League is Atletico Madrid. The team led by the charismatic Diego Simeone played one of the very final competitive games when the Coronavirus struck and it was an important one. A great game that saw Atletico knock out the reigning champions Liverpool.

That victory, when the club were behind in the tie also took place at Anfield in a stunning extra time comeback that saw Atletico win the game 3-2. This against a Liverpool side who were the champions and have also dominated English football this season, 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League, unbeaten at Anfield in the league and only having lost one game. Everyone thought that Atletico were going to be knocked out that night, but the team showed a spirit by a foreign team on English turf not seen perhaps since Inter Milan visited Chelsea on their way to winning the Champions League themselves in 2010.

With Atletico through to the quarter finals and gaining every clubs respect in knocking out the champions, the onus was on Atletico, just how far could they go? Could they win the competition they so desperately want? Could 2020 finally be the year?

In recent years Atletico have reached 2 Champions League finals. Both times in 2014 and 2016 losing to their city rivals Real Madrid. Talk about adding salt to the wounds. And on both times Atletico were not beaten in 90 minutes. In one final they collapsed in extra time and in the other were beaten on penalties. It would be the 2014 final that would feel soul crushing for the club who were still coached by Simeone. After leading 1-0 they looked to have won it with just a couple of minutes of injury time left until Sergio Ramos sprung up from a corner and headed in the equaliser. Sheer joy for him and Real, sheer heartbreak for everyone associated with Atletico.

Of course it hasn’t just been in recent times that Atletico have challenged for Europe’s greatest prize. We could go as far back as 1974 when they reached the final for the first time. This time they were up against the mighty Bayern Munich who were on their way to winning 3 European Cups in a row and beat Atletico 4-0 in the final.

Atletico are a very good team, although them winning the Champions League would still feel like a surprise in many respects, simply because they have never won the competition. Not many ‘new teams’ have been able to win the competition. In fact since its inception for the 1992/93 season there has only been three teams who have won the competition for the first time. Marseille in 1993, Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Chelsea in 2012.

One just felt that 2020 could have Atletico’s name on it. After all beating Liverpool is a huge and Real Madrid currently look like they could be exiting the competition at the hands of Manchester City, with the return leg yet to be played.

The question is will the competition return? Let’s hope so, and there does seem to be a window in June where football could return properly, we will just have to see how events play themselves out over the next few weeks.

 

 

Liverpool finally lose in what has been a tough week for the European champions

It took 44 league games but Liverpool have finally been beaten in the Premier League. Not many people would have predicted that it would be Watford who were in 19th place that would inflict Liverpool’s first defeat since January 2019.

It has been a miserable few days for Liverpool who not only lost in the league but were then knocked out of the FA Cup last night against Chelsea going down 2-0. So they have let in 5 goals in two matches and manager Jurgen Klopp will be concerned. Next up they will play Bournemouth at home and if they were to drop points in that game Klopp will need to be afraid. After that they have a mammoth task of trying to overcome Atletico Madrid in the 2nd leg of their Champions League game. The Spanish side hold a 1-0 lead, though that 2nd leg is at Anfield and every follower of football knows that Anfield is quite a daunting place for any side on a European night.

Liverpool of course have been fantastic this season, and have been actually for the past two years now. But no one can deny the fact that this has been a bad period for the club. One such person who did seem to be in denial was Klopp, coming out with words like ”not really” in suggestion that the clubs form had slipped. Was he hurting inside really? Only time and a biography will answer that one. But the whole of the team must have been devastated at finally losing a game. The objective of winning the league is more or less done, being 22 points in the lead. At best the gap could be cut with a loss of form, but Liverpool could still easily win the league and do it by 10 points clear in the end anyway.

The objective was too remain undefeated for the season. No one was publicly saying it but of course it was. Liverpool would have become only the 3rd team in the history of the top tier in England to have done it, and they were so close too. In defeat to Watford they also lost out on beating the all time English record for most wins in a row. With 18 they needed one more, but alas that went too.

If Liverpool do go out of the Champions League- as champions it would be a blow, but let’s be honest this season was all about winning the league title for the first time since 1990, and that objective is streets ahead and well on target. But what one senses with the club now is what has happened to super giants like PSG and Bayern in the last few seasons who have gone unbeaten for six months, only to lose 1 game and have the season unravel to a damp squib by the end of it.

The fact that it has been so long since Liverpool won the league title will be their saving grace this year though, it really is all that matters to the club, city and fans.

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La Liga: Best 11 Players from Week 25

Barcelona took top spot again as Real Madrid lost to Levante in a shock result and for Barca Lionel Messi got back on form scoring 4 goals as Barcelona beat Eibar 5-0. We take a look at the best performing players in La Liga from the weekend.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Tomas Vaclik- Sevilla 7pts

Tomas Vaclik really stuck out at the weekend as he kept a clean sheet in Sevilla’s 3-0 win over Getafe. This result has helped the club move into the top four. Vaclik earned 7 points and this puts his total to 50 for the season so far.

Defender: Nacho Monreal- Real Sociedad 9pts

Nacho Monreal had a great weekend as he was part of a defence that kept a clean sheet as Sociedad strolled to an 3-0 win over Valencia, the icing on the cake was that Monreal scored the 2nd goal.

Defender: Zaldua- Real Sociedad 7pts

Zaldua helped keep a clean sheet in Sociedad’s 3-0 win but also assisted in the teams first goal which got the ball rolling and for that he was able to earn a very solid 7 points. It is his 5th clean sheet of the season.

Defender: Diego Carlos- Sevilla 5pts

Diego Carlos earned 5 points as Sevilla easily won their game beating 3-0. Carlos has been one of the most important defenders in Spain where he has now kept an impressive 10 clean sheets.

Defender: Clement Lenglet- Barcelona 5pts

Lenglet played an important role to keep a clean sheet as Barcelona beat Eibar 5-0. It was important for the player who has sometimes got criticism in his role, but it was the players 5th clean sheet of the season for the Catalan giants.

Midfielder: Angel Correra- Atletico Madrid 6pts

Angel Correra is ranked as the 3rd best midfielder in La Liga and for good reason and another 6 points were earned as his team beat Villarreal 3-1. He opened the scoring and then assisted in the 2nd goal and now has a total of 43 points.

Midfielder: Fernando- Sevilla 8pts

Fernando has 17 points in total and at times has struggled this season but he had a very positive weekend scoring Sevilla’s 2nd goal and then making the assist for the 3rd.

Midfielder: Arthur- Barcelona 6pts

Arthur scored Barcelona’s 5th goal as they club beat Eibar 5-0 to go top of the table. It was the players 3rd goal of the season and this was such an important win and he capped the games victory off nicely.

Midfielder: Jorge Koke- Atletico Madrid 6pts

Koke had another great game scoring the 2nd and then setting up Felix for the 3rd goal as Atletico beat Villarreal 3-1. Koke now has 31 points and is ranked as one of the best midfielders in La Liga.

Striker: Darwin Machis- Granada 8pts

Granada beat Osasuna 3-0 and Machis scored the 2 opening goals in just over 20 minutes to earn a fantastic 8 points in fantasy La Liga. He now has 5 goals for the season.

Striker: Lionel Messi- Barcelona 18 pts

18!, you read that right 18 points for the master player Lionel Messi was earned at the weekend as he scored an incredible 4 goals past Eibar as Barcelona went top of the league. A hat trick seemed sufficient but the great Messi scored another and he now has aptly 18 goals in the league.

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What has gone wrong for Atletico Madrid this season?

This was supposed to be the season where Atletico Madrid made their statement. A La Liga title was the objective. Quality players had been brought in, no less in Felix who cost over 120m euros,  and Diego Simeone looked upon as one of the best coaches in world football is still at the club.

It was a season where everyone thought Real Madrid are in transition. No matter if Zinedine Zidane is the coach, he left then came back, there is no Ronaldo, and times have changed, except for Real they haven’t and that is why they are currently top of the league. What about the threat of Barcelona? But they were thought to be maybe too long in the tooth, the same old tired midfield, Atletico happy to see Antoine Griezmann sold to them so they could get Felix, and surely from Atletico’s point of view they got the best years out of Griezmann anyway.

Then there is Lionel Messi, but he is 32 going on 33, the thinking from Atletico seemed legit, this was their time, except it wasn’t. As the season draws in they are 13 points behind Real Madrid and 10 behind Barcelona. And it gets worse than that, because they aren’t even in 3rd place, no Getafe currently hold that position, Getafe?, oh poor Atletico what went wrong?

Part of the problem seems to be uncertainty on and off the pitch. Saul Niguez has repeatedly been played out of position with Simeone insisting him to play in defence when he prefers to play in midfield as seen with the Spanish national side. Then there is Simeone’s assistant German ‘Mono’ Burgos who keeps getting linked away from the job- and it must be tempting for him to take on a full time coaches job elsewhere.

Felix as mentioned above is technically brilliant but the problem is his age. He has scored just 2 goals this season, that can almost be accepted if he is creating goals, but he has only been involved in one assist for the money paid that is a very poor return.

One player who has shone is Kieran Trippier who Atletico got from Tottenham. He has looked assured in defence and has made more assists than Felix which says a lot.

The game of course is all about goals and Atletico have scored just 22, that is 30 less than Barcelona and the same as Mallorca who are down in 17th place. The flip side of that is they have conceded 15 but they have won just 9 games from 22 played.

The worry for the club now is can they qualify for next seasons Champions League? Winning it this year will be hard given that they will play the current champions Liverpool in the knockout round. As far as qualifying through their league status they are just 3 points from 4th place so of course it is possible. But form really needs to get picked up as they have no wins in their last 3 games, their latest loss was a body blow too coming against city rivals Real Madrid.

Next weekend the club will play Granada at home, a game they should win but one senses like much of the their season they will somehow make heavy weather of it.

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No circus at Real Madrid as Zidane is quietly getting the job done

There was much scepticism when Zinedine Zidane returned as coach of Real Madrid last summer after walking out of the club a year beforehand. But the Frenchman’s return is being justified by every passing week, and Real Madrid are top of La Liga.

Madrid have 49 points and it is only their fierce rival Barcelona who can stop their quest for a La Liga title, they currently have 46 points. In 3rd is Getafe with 39 points. It has been quite an achievement for Madrid under Zidane who have just come off of a great weekend as they beat their eternal rivals in the derby Atletico Madrid 1-0 keeping a clean sheet in the process. That score line summed up Madrid, no mad 4-3 wins and games filled with red cards, just a simple 1-0 will do the job.

That win ended Atletico’s title hopes too and Diego Simeone’s side now sit a huge 14 points behind their rivals.

Compared to other seasons Real are not scoring tons of goals, just 40 so far for them. True that is still the 2nd best in the league but is still 12 behind Barcelona and only one in front of Villarreal. But it is in defence where Real are really shining, conceding just 13 goals this season which is by far the best defensive record in the league. They allowed a great side like Atletico just 1 shot on target the whole game at the Bernabeu and at home that figure goes down to just 7 goals shipped.

Sergio Ramos has helped keep 11 clean sheets whilst Raphael Varane and Daniel Carvajal have kept 10. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has easily been the best shot stopper in the league and whilst we associate Madrid with attack and goals the focus has clearly been on defence.

Only Karim Benzema has been scoring the goals for Real, he currently has 13 and the days of having a player scoring 40 or 50 goals a season in Cristiano Ronaldo has long gone. He will be for ever thanked at the club, but football is and always will be a team game and that is the mentality of the club under Zidane this season.

Incredibly Real have only won the league once in the past 7 years which last happened in 2017. Whilst Madrid will have a go on all fronts in the Champions League club president Florentino Perez would love to deliver the league and knock back Barcelona, it would mean a great deal to stop Barca winning their 3rd league title in a row.

As far as the Champions League goes, Madrid will face off against Manchester City in what should be a mouth watering 2 legged affair. It also brings back Pep Guardiola to the Bernabeu he whose blood bleeds the colours of Barcelona, just for some more added spice.

Can Madrid win their 2nd title in 8 years, they have given themselves every chance to do so, and for now it looks like Zidane has come back to save Madrid who were clearing in a chaotic mess a year ago.

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Madrid derby is Zinedine Zidane’s chance to expose gulf between rivals

Last season, Real Madrid spent the majority of the campaign looking upwards at rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona above them in the table. Now, though, the dynamic has changed and it’s the Santiago Bernabeu outfit setting the pace at the top of La Liga while Atleti in particular toil their way through the season.

Indeed, it’s been a tough few months for Atletico Madrid. For the first time in his managerial career at the club, Diego Simeone is under real pressure. Even in the context of a difficult campaign, last week was especially tough for Atleti as they exited the Copa del Rey to lower league opposition and were held at home to Leganes, dropping them out of La Liga’s top four.

Simeone insists that he will come up with answers, but he’s been saying that for weeks. Atletico Madrid’s season continues to get worse and worse as they struggle with questions of identity and philosophy. Real Madrid, on the other hand, are getting better with every match they play, growing more and more confident and building more and more momentum.

It’s not that Zinedine Zidane has got his side playing exceptional football. Real Madrid are still labouring through matches, but they are winning through muscle memory. Take their recent victory over Sevilla, for instance. Real Madrid were second best for much of the game and yet still managed to claim three points.

This weekend’s Madrid derby presents Real Madrid with a chance to expose the gulf between themselves and one of their closest rivals. Atletico Madrid are at a low ebb, while the Santiago Bernabeu outfit are rising, currently holding a three-point lead at the top of the Spanish top flight.

While Atleti have struggled for a true goalscorer to lead the line, Karim Benzema is enjoying the season of his life for Real Madrid. The Frenchman has become Los Blancos’ figurehead in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo age, matching Lionel Messi in the race for this season’s Pichichi award.

Atletico Madrid have also had trouble in midfield, with Koke and Saul Niguez not delivering in the way Simeone had hoped. On the flip side, Real Madrid have benefited from the emergence of Fede Valverde, with Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric all rejuvenated. Every way you look at it, this weekend is set up for Real Madrid to provide a statement on the football landscape in Spain’s capital city.

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Barcelona sack Ernesto Valverde but the situation turns into a farce

Barcelona have sacked coach Ernesto Valverde but the handling of the affair ended up turning into a farce. Instead of the club making a professional decision the story ran out of control when former player Xavi rejected taking the job.

The Catalan giants ended up exposing themselves early, Valverde knew he was out of a job as the Barca board scrambled to appoint someone after the club were beaten 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals out in Saudi Arabia. The timing though seems off. It is ended with Barcelona fans having a Valverde for a domestic league game, only to see him and the team go halfway around the world to play in the Super Cup and the team coming back with Valverde gone and a new manager in place.

But why now? Why did Barcelona make this decision? Valverde after all becomes the first Barcelona coach in 17 years sacked mid way through the season. The last was Louis van Gaal. It has been reported that Barcelona panicked when they witnessed the Atletico game. The club were 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go and lost 3-2. It reminded them of the Champions League collapses against Roma and Liverpool when the club spurned a 3 goal lead, each time with Valverde in charge.

It’s odd in a way that the club have finally said goodbye to him given that they are top of the league in Spain and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. If they were going to sack him surely it would have come days after going out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion to Liverpool, or at the end of last season, but he was liked by the board, well until now.

So who will be replacing him? It should have been Xavi and that would have been the natural decision. But the former Barca great actually did the most decent thing and declined to leave his current managerial position at Al Sadd during their season. It was reported he could take over in the summer but Barca wanted someone now. That someone is Quique Setien.

Setien’s last job was coach of Real Betis where he recorded some great results including beating Barcelona. He has long been an admirer of the clubs playing philosophy and could be the perfect replacement, only time will tell on that, but he has never had a win rate above 50%, at the same time he has never coached one of the elite teams and at 61 his dream has finally come true.

As for Valverde, well once you have managed Barcelona it is like winning an Oscar and he will be high demand, with no problems to find another job, although he will more than likely take the next 6 months off. The one shame is the way Barcelona handled it all for a man who probably should have gone this summer. Having said that one could question if he has been a failure for Barcelona? Sure their performances collapsed in the Champions League but Barcelona won 2 league titles under him and two cups. Week in week out they did a job on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to win La Liga.

Former Barcelona great Andres Iniesta called the handling of Valverde’s sacking ‘a bit ugly’, and he was right to say that. It’s interesting how loyal figures at the club are usually shown the back door or the handling for their exits is not done let’s say with the best of etiquette in mind. But what is done is done and Setien will be thrown in at the deep end, his dream has finally arrived and he will be hoping that it isn’t a nightmare.

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