Atletico Madrid’s early exit from the Champions League will cause a great deal of anguish to their loyal fan base but it may represent a boost for their La Liga titles hopes this campaign. This had been Diego Simeone’s side fifth straight campaign in Europe’s premier club competition and it represents the first when they have not been eliminated by their fierce city rivals Real Madrid.
However, this exit could come at the right time to sharpen minds of Atletico on their domestic campaign. Coming on the same day as their Copa Del Rey Round of 16 draw with third tier Lleida, the club will be strong favourites to book their place in the last eight and once again have the luxury of resting key first-teamers while doing so. However, two players who they will be keen to give minutes to are Vitolo and Diego Costa – the Spanish international duo will become available for selection when the club’s FIFA registration ban lifts in January.
These arrivals will be sufficient to give Los Rojiblancos a significant boost at a crucial point in the season. For too long they have relied on Antoine Griezmann’s brilliance to lift an attack which is often wayward and frugal, with Fernando Torres, Luciano Vietto and Kevin Gameiro among those unable to provide a consistent run of form up front.
Costa’s arrival will establishing an attacking focal point, provide a greater aerial threat, more ball retention up front and most crucially of all, goals. Atleti found the net only 18 times across their first 16 matches in both La Liga and the Copa Del Rey this season – numbers not fitting of a side capable of challenging for the title.
However, they now have scored 13 goals in their last five games in all competitions while their unbeaten league run of 18 matches – stretching back to April last season, is a club record. A fortnight ago they were 10 points adrift of Barcelona but have clawed that back to just six points and with Barca’s upcoming tough run of fixtures, Simeone’s side could be going into the New Year right in the thick of the leader board.
Other arrivals are possible in January too with a squad who arguably need freshening up. There will be fewer reservations over players who are no longer cup-tied in European competition and not having Champions League knockout group stages will mean energy levels increase and momentum is easier to generate.
They will automatically be made favourites for the Europa League despite other heavyweights also dropping into the competition, such is the refusal to be beaten. It should not be forgotten that they have defeated every side they have faced in a knockout stage outside of Madrid in Europe in their record under Simeone in the Champions League.
Now they will have their eyes set on a first title in four seasons and whilst Griezmann’s future looks set to be away from Atleti, his last contribution for the club could be a monumental one.