Diego Simeone has built up a large supply of credit as Atletico Madrid coach over more than a decade at the helm, but this season he is spending it fast.
The coach, who was appointed in December 2011, led the team to La Liga glory in 2014 and 2021, as well as taking Atletico to the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016, where they finished runners-up to rivals Real Madrid on both occasions.
However on Tuesday, his team is fighting to stay in Europe when they travel to Porto — aiming to finish third in their group and drop into the Europa League.
A painful home draw at the Metropolitano last week against Bayer Leverkusen put paid to their ambitions of making the Champions League last 16, with Yannick Carrasco missing a 99th-minute penalty which could have saved them from elimination.
It is the latest blow in what has been a difficult season so far, with fans’ opinion over the coach more divided than ever.
The squad seems less motivated than previous Simeone sides, while the coach chops and changes his line-up, apparently unsure of his strongest team.
Atletico last won the Europa League in 2018, with a brace from Antoine Griezmann, whose current revival in form is one of few bright spots for the club.
They must pick themselves up off the floor after a bruising 3-2 defeat by minnows Cadiz on Saturday in La Liga, with Ruben Sobrino grabbing a late winner — in the 99th minute again.
“We’re not getting the luck that we need in this game,” said Simeone after the Cadiz defeat, although he also recognised his team were lacking the right mentality.
“We have to be stronger, more composed, calmer, understand games,” he continued. “We need to improve in that regard, mentally, composure, anxiety.
“It seems that everything will end tomorrow, and there’s still a long way to go in the league, there’s the cup, the chance to be in the Europa League.”
Needing to match fourth-placed Leverkusen’s result to reach the latter competition may have been weighing on his mind when picking the team to face Cadiz.
Simeone rested Griezmann and defender Jose Gimenez, breaking his partnership with Steven Savic which is so key to the team’s solidity.
The coach believes his team will need to beat already qualified Porto to stay third, explaining as much while taking a curious jab at Group B leaders and surprise package, Club Brugge, perhaps trying to motivate them.
“We have to win to get there,” he said. “Brugge will probably lose in Germany, to get there we have to win.”
Atletico are currently nine points off La Liga leaders Real Madrid after 12 games, and lost at home in September against the reigning champions in the capital’s biggest derby.
Despite the current situation, Spanish newspaper AS reports Atletico are planning on offering Simeone a contract renewal to 2026, with his current deal set to expire in 2024.
For some supporters, who are losing hope in Simeone’s ability to get the best out of his current squad, it is not good news. For others, the Argentine can do no wrong.
Beating Porto and staying in contention for a European trophy this season would at least start to placate those in the former camp.
World Cup News
/ 24 mins ago
Goncalo Ramos justified the shock decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo by scoring a hat-trick...
/ 2 hours ago
Argentina have gradually found their feet at the World Cup, improving with every game,...
/ 2 hours ago
Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning...
/ 3 hours ago
Son Heung-min apologised after his South Korean side exited the World Cup following a...