Cracks Starting to Show at Atletico Madrid in Bid for 'Impossible' La Liga Dream

Guillem BalagueFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 05: Diego Costa of Atletico de Madrid fits his shoe«s cord during the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 5, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Someone once said that a week was a very long time in politics. In football, it can feel even longer. Ask Atletico Madrid.

Despite still sharing top billing in the La Liga table with Real Madrid and Barcelona, Atletico will go into this weekend's match against Real Valladolid having been dumped out of the Copa del Rey they won last year following an aggregate 0-5 defeat by their illustrious neighbours.

Elimination also comes on the back of a 2-0 defeat against Almeria, a game which, in truth, they should have won.

One week, three matches, three defeats, no goals scored and seven goals conceded hardly looks like the form of a side tipped by some to break La Liga's big-two duopoly.

And while it's undoubtedly true that sometimes there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, the cruel reality is that the record books are the only real point of reference worth taking any notice of.

Two deflected own goals from Emiliano Insua and Miranda coming either side of an excellent Jese strike in the first leg did not falter the home side, who were superior in attitude and football and effectively finished the ill-tempered tie as a contest.

Any faint hopes Atletico may have had of a comeback in the return game were swiftly dispelled when two penalties in 17 minutes left the home side with an impossible target of scoring seven goals against a team yet to concede in the whole tournament.

But the truth is that this is an Atletico side that has hit a wall, which is due purely and simply to a lack of rotation and lack of depth; possibly the same thing.

Diego was signed in the recent window and walked straight into the side, but everyone else apart from Raul Garcia has failed to make an impact from the bench.

Whether or not that's the fault of the manager who genuinely doesn't believe the bench players at his disposal are good enough or the players who have failed to step up to the plate is a matter of conjecture.

Players like Jose Sosa and Adrian have not been added much, and Josuha Guilavogui has been loaned out to Saint-Etienne after signing in the summer. Dani Aranzubia had a nightmare first leg.

The fact is that what we have now is a side that looks stale, tired and off the pace, with a defence lacking the necessary aggression and an attack that lacks clarity.

Diego Costa, for example, despite a lightning start to the season, has not managed so much as a shot in the last two games he has played.

Instead of prioritising the club's ambitions, which should have been the league and Champions League, Diego Simeone has gone in search of the whole shooting match, and now, left with a side that looks to be running on empty, it's a decision that could well cost him dearly.

Simeone has always maintained that there should be no excuses, but that's precisely what's beginning to happen, a sure sign that cracks are beginning to appear.

When asked in a press conference if he felt his team were not always getting the rub of the green because they were beginning to make life difficult for the top two, he did not disagree, answering yes, three times.

The players and the friendly media are beginning to complain about refereeing decisions, and it is easy to imagine that with Atletico Madrid, what you have is a very strong first XI which has already peaked and is only looking in one direction.

They will compete in the Champions League, especially if it is being prioritised ahead of the impossible dream of La Liga.