'Gabi and 10 Ghosts': Atletico faces Euro crisis

Reuters
The 1-1 draw in Madrid came two weeks after a goalless stalemate in Baku in which Atletico also had the advantage of an extra man in the second half.
Reuters
Reuters

Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres (center right) in action with Qarabag's Maksim Medvedev during their UEFA Champions League match at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on October 31, 2017.

Atletico Madrid, despite twice coming within inches of UEFA Champions League glory in the last four years, has experienced an emphatic fall from grace this season and is on the brink of a humiliating exit from the group stage.

While in past years Diego Simeone's side out-muscled continental heavyweights such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus, this campaign it has been unable to beat Azerbaijan's little-known Qarabag in two attempts.

On Tuesday the 55,000 fans packed into the shiny new Wanda Metropolitano stadium groaned with frustration as Atletico wasted chance after chance to grab a winning goal against the Azerbaijani side, even after the visitors had forward Pedro Henrique sent off with half an hour remaining.

The 1-1 draw in Madrid came two weeks after a goalless stalemate in Baku in which Atletico also had the advantage of an extra man in the second half. It is without a win in four games in the UCL Group C and its future in the competition is out of its own hands.

"It'll take more than a miracle", said the front cover of newspaper Marca, picturing a despondent Antoine Griezmann covering his face in his hands, while daily AS declared: "Atletico look towards the Europa League."

Atletico's wobbly form this season has not been limited to Europe's elite competition and it has only won one of its last eight games, conceding far more goals than it used to and appears to be suffering from anxiety when it comes to scoring.

”This team’s identity is based on conceding very few goals and scoring from the few chances we create. Now things have changed, we concede more goals and no matter how many chances we create we can’t seem to score," said captain Gabi.

The veteran midfielder was one of few players to escape from criticism after the miserable draw with Qarabag on Halloween night, which Marca described as "Gabi and 10 Ghosts".

Elementary mistakes

Atletico's shaky backline is the most remarkable aspect of its decline. It had the strongest defensive record in four of the previous five seasons in La Liga and two years ago conceded fewer than one goal every two games, but now it is making the most elementary mistakes.

All nine of the goals it has conceded in the league and the UCL have come from crosses into the box, situations which it used to extinguish with ease, while defenders Diego Godin and Juanfran, 31 and 32 respectively, have badly underperformed.

A ban on registering new players due to the illegal transfer of minors has led to a lack of competitive edge in the squad. So in attack there has been an over-reliance on Griezmann, who has only scored three goals all season.

The arrivals of Spain forwards Diego Costa and Vitolo in January cannot come soon enough.

Another problem for Atletico has been adapting to its new 68,000-capacity arena, where it has failed to win its last four games and which has yet to witness a UCL win.

A pining for the decrepit but beloved old stadium was tangible after the draw with Qarabag, with Marca declaring: "This would not have happened at the Vicente Calderon."


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