Eibar made history on Saturday night and sprung an upset over Atlético Madrid – a 2-0 victory for the hosts’ first-ever top-flight win over Los Colchoneros. José Mendilibar’s endlessly energetic team had threatened to win against Atletico with solid performances for years, and wasted little time in taking control of this game. Jan Oblak needed to parry a pinball deflection inside five minutes but could not keep out the winner. The assist was provided by striker Sergi Enrich with a flick that was headed to the central defender at the post, and a stunned, fatigued Atlético never rallied – even with over 60 percent possession. Midfielder Edu Expósito put the match to bed with a long-range effort at the 90th minute.
Eibar out-Atleti’d Atleti in large part because the annual springtime cull of the squad has started early. Due to injuries, Diego Simeone had to put three young academy players on the bench – from which Óscar Clemente and Sergio Camello actually entered the match in the last 10 minutes. The coach has always chosen a squad that was small, and this squad has lost three players in two weeks, hurting their chances in La Liga. Atleti are third in the table after this loss, five points behind Barcelona who play Granada over the weekend, and eight behind league-leaders Real Madrid. However, more importantly, this loss allowed fourth-placed Sevilla to move level with them on points, with Getafe only two points behind the duo. Of course, Atletico have long gone out of the race for the title, with bookmakers pricing them at 51.00 to win the title, but at 2/9 favourites to finish in the top four and thus in the Champions League places, there is still a lot of work for Diego Simeone to do to salvage this season. Are you wanting to back Atletico and are looking for free bets in the UK? click here!
One solution was to start Vitolo opposite Ángel Correa on the flanks, but this type of move left the Rojiblancos overly open and removed an important option from the bench. Without Koke to run and cover for everyone, los Armeros jumped Atlético’s midfield easily and repeatedly in the first half. Marcos Llorente did not play for the second consecutive league fixture despite coming off the bench in the Supercopa final.
Santiago Arias returned to the fold after Kieran Trippier was sidelined with a groin complaint, and the right-back’s figurative rust was evident. Arias conceded the corner which led to Eibar’s first goal, and made several defensive errors which were luckily unpunished by the home side. The Colombian, though talented, might be the first guy out of the door next summer and has won the confidence of Simeone. José Giménez and Thomas Lemar missed out as well – the former, like Koke, re-aggravated an injury. The Felipe-Stefan Savić pairing is too inflexible and immobile, and it was not a coincidence that Atlético conceded another goal from distance with this centre-back pairing. Spain international Mario Hermoso appears to be on the injury list again, restricting El Cholo’s options even further.
Befuddling is one way to describe El Cholo’s inability to optimize this still-small but talented team’s potential. While the best Atlético sides of Simeone mirrored his substantial bark and bite, this one has reflected the Argentine’s stubbornness and doubts about using a new group of players. As a result, Atleti now trail Real Madrid by eight points. The three-game winning series that took Atleti into third position is long gone – by the end of the weekend, just four points could separate third from ninth. While they remain favourites to finish in the top four at 1/7, ahead of the likes of Sevilla who are priced at 4/7 and Getafe at 13/2, Atletico also face a huge task in the Champions League – that of overcoming Liverpool, defending champions and runaway leaders in the Premier League. It is thus no surprise that the bookies have the Spanish side at 35.00 to win the competition, and at 5.00 to even reach the semi-finals. Simeone needs to find a way to make his squad work if he is to see through this rebuilding job.