Signs of stagnation at Atletico ahead of Juve and Ronaldo visit

REUTERS/Susana Vera

Atletico Madrid may be the second best team in Spain according to the LaLiga standings but Diego Simeone’s side are showing signs of stagnation as they prepare to host Juventus in Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg match.

Atletico bounced back from two consecutive defeats to Real Betis and Real Madrid with a 1-0 win at struggling Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

However, their limp performance does not inspire confidence ahead of the visit of the all-powerful Serie A leaders and familiar foe Cristiano Ronaldo.

While results have largely been good, taking Atletico above Real Madrid and seven points behind leaders Barcelona, their performances have left a lot to be desired.

They have become increasingly reliant on goalkeeper Jan Oblak and talismanic forward Antoine Griezmann, their leading scorer with 16 goals in all competitions. His nearest challenger is midfielder Koke, who has scored four times.

A tally of 33 injuries, affecting influential players such as defenders Filipe Luis, Diego Godin and striker Diego Costa, has not helped their cause, although there is a sense that they are still underperforming.

“Atletico are more like an Italian team than a Spanish team, they have quality players but they don’t play like Barcelona, they are a tight team and play direct football and achieved great results,” Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini told Marca.

But they now appear to be missing the intensity, fight and desire for which they were once renowned.

The recent 3-1 defeat at home by city rivals Real Madrid was a case in point, as Atletico frequently lost aerial battles and were outmuscled in midfield.

Overcoming inferior opposition such as Rayo has been difficult for Atletico, but they still seem to relish being the underdogs, a role they will find themselves in against Juventus, who are unbeaten in Serie A.

“Both sides are competitive machines,” former captain Gabi told Radio Marca.

“In games like this it’s vital you make as few mistakes as possible. And no team knows how to suffer like Atletico Madrid.”

REUTERS/Reporting by Richard Martin Editing by Christian Radnedge

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