Simeone's strangely toothless Atletico must quickly rediscover their bite

By Sports Desk February 23, 2021

When the team sheets landed, it looked like Diego Simeone might have thrown his bottomless reserves of menacing caution to the wind.

Atletico Madrid lined up to face Chelsea in the Champions League with Angel Correa and Joao Felix either side of Luis Suarez in attack.

Marcos Llorente – a goalscoring revelation from midfield both this season and, famously, at Anfield at the same stage of the 2019-20 tournament – was at right wing-back, with Thomas Lemar arguably an even more offensive option on the other flank.

Hold onto your hats or, at the very least, your dark overcoats.

By half-time, Atleti had managed no shots on target and one attempt on goal overall.

Despite inviting mirth such as that immediately above, Simeone's men did not start by manning the barricades.

Joao Felix scampered into a first-minute dribble, drawing a foul that saw Mason Mount collect the quickest booking in this season's Champions League and a ban for the second leg.

Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy's heavy touch nearly gifted a goal to Saul Niguez before Suarez mugged Kurt Zouma near the right byline and Lemar could not slide home the cross.

Those were uncomfortable moments for Chelsea, but they soon started to feel at home in a dubious 'away' game at Bucharest's Arena Nationala.

Thomas Tuchel has already stamped his mark all over this Blues side and they attempted 403 passes before the interval, over 100 more than any of Atletico's previous opponents in the first half of a Champions League game this season.

Atletico found themselves nudged, prodded and manoeuvred back into a familiar shell.

Jorginho became Joao Felix's latest victim, bringing down the Portugal forward to earn a caution and a ban, but Simeone talking himself into a yellow card after that moment of encouragement for his side suggested a state of fraught high-alert.

The Atleti boss paced in agitated fashion as he waited for the VAR decision that overturned an offside decision and awarded a splendid away-ish goal to Olivier Giroud – replays showing Mario Hermoso deliberately played the ball before the centre-forward's expert overhead kick.

Even when forced to chase the game, Atletico did not necessarily look more likely to score. Timo Werner tore forward on the break and thrashed into the side netting shortly after Joao Felix had been surprisingly removed.

Simeone has won deserved praise for loosening the shackles of his ridged 4-4-2 to embrace a more flexible 3-5-2 alternative this term. It was a switch that saw Los Rojiblancos rack up a commanding lead in LaLiga.

However, their most recent clean sheet is now eight matches ago and their domestic advantage has dwindled on the back of one win in four.

As Tuchel's Chelsea impressively kept them at arm's length, Atletico looked like a team dangerously caught between two stools at a terrible time to be in such a predicament.

Like in last season's quarter-final defeat to RB Leipzig, the favourite's tag weighed uneasily on Atletico – who are second only to Barcelona in terms of goals scored in LaLiga this season – and they became a more limp attacking proposition as the match wore on. Mendy concluded the 90 minutes untested.

Seemingly without the devilment of old, they were unable to drag Chelsea down to slug it out in the trenches with them. The Premier League team were an assured, moving target with no interest in grappling, much to Suarez's clear disappointment.

Simeone's best teams sometimes felt like they were nothing but edge and Atletico quickly need to rediscover some as a tough trip to Villarreal and a seemingly pivotal Madrid derby lie in wait. Maybe they will be relieved to have their backs to the wall once more.

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    Diego Simeone earned a place in the Atletico Madrid history books with Sunday's win over Villarreal.

    The Argentine coach enjoyed his 308th victory in charge of the club in Atletico's 2-0 LaLiga triumph.

    An own goal from Alfonso Pedraza and a fine strike from Joao Felix secured the win, sending Atletico five points clear at the top of the table.

    In so doing, Simeone matched the esteemed Luis Aragones as the Atletico head coach with the highest number of victories in all competitions.

    Simeone's latest win came in his 512th match in charge. Aragones, the only man to take charge of more games, reached 308 wins in 612 matches at a rate of 50.3 per cent.

    Atletico have drawn 120 times and lost only 84 games under Simeone, who took over on December 23 in 2011 and has since become the club's most successful coach.

    TROPHIES

    Aragones, a star for Atletico as a player, also won six trophies as head coach. Simeone, with seven, is the only man with more.

    In a little over nine years in charge, the former Argentina midfielder has led Atletico to two UEFA Super Cups, two Europa Leagues, one Supercopa de Espana, one Copa del Rey and, most famously, their only LaLiga title in the past 25 years back in 2013-14.

    Simeone has helped to tip the balance of power somewhat in Spain's capital. He is the only coach to have won three finals against Real Madrid in three different competitions: the Copa del Rey (2013), the Supercopa de Espana (2014) and the UEFA Super Cup (2018).

    He has twice faced them in the Champions League final, too, losing after extra time in 2014 and on penalties two years later.

     

    TRAILBLAZING

    Among South American coaches, only Helenio Herrera (359) has taken charge of more LaLiga matches than Simeone (351).

    All of those have been with Atletico, of course. There are just two coaches to oversee more LaLiga games at a single club: Aragones at Atletico (407) and Miguel Munoz at Real Madrid (424).

    Munoz won 357 of his 605 games in charge of Los Blancos in all competitions, so Simeone has a little way to go to surpass that tally. Still, he has already won more games than Barcelona record-holder Johan Cruyff, who won 244 times out of 421 matches.

     

    TITANS

    Antoine Griezmann is the player to score the most goals under Simeone at Atletico, with 133 in all competitions.

    The rest of the top five includes Diego Costa (75), Radamel Falcao (58), Koke (44) and Saul Niguez (43).

    Koke leads the way for assists, with 95, comfortably clear of Griezmann (46), Gabi (44), Angel Correa (43) and Juanfran (32).

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    Alisson was not included in Liverpool's squad as the reigning Premier League champions stopped their slide with a 2-0 win over the struggling Blades on Sunday.

    It was reported that Jose Agostinho Becker drowned on Wednesday while swimming close to his holiday home. The 57-year-old was declared missing and, following a search, his body was found.

    Jones scored the opener at Bramall Lane, with Kean Bryan's own goal then securing a much-needed victory for the Reds.

    "It's been a difficult time for myself and the rest of the team, but I'm happy that I got on the scoresheet and I'd like to take this time to say that this goal is for Ali's dad, actually," Jones told Sky Sports.

    "So, may he rest in peace and if Ali sees this, this is for you bro."

    Asked how difficult the news had been for Liverpool's squad, Jones replied: "He's a strong lad, a big part of the team of course.

    "He's not here today, we miss him for sure. I'd like to give the goal to him, his dad and the rest of his family."

    Jones' goal was his second in the Premier League, and his first away from Anfield, while the 20-year-old midfielder also became the youngest Liverpool player to score a top-flight goal on the road since Raheem Sterling against Burnley in 2014.

    "I'm a player that likes to assist and score goals – I think the right time is now," Jones added. "We've had good games but not scored as many goals as we'd like.

    "Today was a good example of it all coming together. It was a good performance."

    Jones finished with a game-high four goal attempts, with three of them on target, while his passing accuracy of 96.3 per cent was better than that of any other player who started the game.

    It was a display which came as no surprise to Jurgen Klopp, who said it is vital that Jones – who was involved in both goals – starts to produce at the top end of the pitch on a consistent basis.

    "A top player, no doubt about that. That's why he was playing. He was very important," Klopp said.

    "We have talked about him being involved in more goalscoring situations as well, that's clear. Everyone has space for improvement. Tonight he was involved [in the goals] – that's good."

  • Villarreal 0-2 Atletico Madrid: Simeone's side revive LaLiga title bid Villarreal 0-2 Atletico Madrid: Simeone's side revive LaLiga title bid

    Atletico Madrid's LaLiga title charge is back on track after a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday. 

    Diego Simeone's side had picked up just five points from their previous four top-flight games to give rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona hope of reining them in at the summit. 

    They secured a vital three points against Unai Emery's side, though, courtesy of Alfonso Pedraza's first-half own goal and substitute Joao Felix's second-half strike. 

    The result meant Atleti restored their five-point advantage over second-place Barcelona, who have played a game more, while Real Madrid – who Los Rojiblancos face next weekend – are six points off the top in third.

    Atleti were off the pace in the early stages, yet they forged ahead after 25 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. 

    Stefan Savic's back-post header from Thomas Lemar's cross was kept out by Sergio Asenjo, but the ball rebounded into the net off the unlucky Pedraza – the goal ultimately given following a lengthy VAR review for a possible offside. 

    A sprawling Jan Oblak denied Gerard Moreno soon after as Villarreal went in at the break behind despite having had nine shots to Atleti's three.

    Asenjo superbly pawed over Luis Suarez's fierce strike shortly after the interval before getting down well to repel Angel Correa's deflected drive from distance.

    Joao Felix wrapped up a vital triumph in the 69th minute, controlling the ball on his chest before arrowing a sumptuous half-volley into Asenjo's bottom-right corner from just inside the penalty area. 

    Alex Baena struck the post from distance and forced Oblak into a wonderful save inside the final 10 minutes, but Atleti ultimately held on to take a significant stride towards a first title since the 2013-14 season.

     

     

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