The Simeone saga: How just 10 years saw Atletico Madrid change forever

By Sports Desk January 07, 2022

January 7 is a special date in Atletico Madrid history.

It is 10 years to the day since Diego Simeone took charge of his first game as Atletico head coach, and the balance at the top of Spanish football started, imperceptibly at first, to shift.

In his first game back on January 7, 2012, Cholo's Atleti were held to a goalless draw by Malaga at La Rosaleda; his most recent match was on Thursday, a 5-0 Copa del Rey thrashing of Rayo Majadahonda that felt very much like an appropriate celebration of a remarkable decade.

While his football has not always enthralled, few can argue with Simeone's results and haul of eight trophies – almost a quarter of all the major silverware the club have ever won.

To celebrate the milestone, Stats Perform picked through the Opta data to highlight a truly memorable era, in which Spain's 'big two' became three...

Legacy

Simeone has been in charge of 553 games in all competitions, overseeing 328 wins, 130 draws and 95 defeats. He is the coach with the most victories in Atletico history and the one with the best win percentage (59 per cent) among those to take charge of more than 50 matches.

In those games, Atleti have scored 914 goals, averaging 1.65 per match – a reasonable if unspectacular return. Of course, Simeone's success is built on supremely solid foundations: his Atleti have conceded 419 goals, an average of 0.76 per match, and have kept a clean sheet in almost exactly half of those matches (277). That's 70 more than Real Madrid have managed in the same time frame.

Should Simeone remain in charge for a further 59 matches, he would match Luis Aragones (612) for overseeing the most competitive fixtures in Atleti history. Together, Simeone and Aragones have been at the helm for 1,165 games in all competitions, which is 30 per cent of all matches in the club's history if you ignore the old regional divisions.

History

Without a doubt, Simeone's most successful season was 2013-14, when Atletico held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw on the final matchday to win LaLiga for the 10th time. They also reached the Champions League final, losing 4-1 to Real Madrid after extra time, having been seconds from a 1-0 victory.

In total, Atleti won 42 of 61 games, a club record in a single season. It was also the second-highest number of matches they have played in one campaign, behind the 66 they had in 2009-10. They also set a new record for goals scored in all competitions: 116, at an average of 1.9 per match. 

Defensively, their best season came in 2015-16, when they again reached the Champions League final and again were left heartbroken by their city rivals (this time on penalties). They conceded only 31 goals in all competitions and just 18 in LaLiga, which equalled the record for the fewest conceded in a 38-game season set by Arsenio Iglesias' Deportivo La Coruna in 1993-94.

Reliability

Atleti began life under Simeone with six consecutive clean sheets, equalling Joaquin Peiro in 1990 for the best such start at the club, but they have never managed a longer streak than that. The club record of nine set by Tomislav Ivic's side in 1991 remains. However, they did go on a run of 13 consecutive wins in all competitions from August to October 2012, and they have twice enjoyed unbeaten streaks of 23 matches.

In total, Atleti have kept 197 LaLiga clean sheets under Simeone, a tally surpassed by just three coaches in the competition's history: Javier Irureta (204 in 612), Miguel Munoz (225 in 608) and Aragones (230 in 756). He is the only coach in the top 10 of this particular list to boast a record of clean sheets in more than half his matches (51 per cent).

Simeone is fifth in the all-time standings for LaLiga wins, with 233 in 383 matches, and second for wins with the same team (behind Munoz and Real Madrid with 257). He has the best win percentage among the 10 coaches with the most wins in the competition's history (60.8 per cent). 

Simeone's favourite LaLiga opponents are Getafe: he has beaten them 17 times and lost none of their 20 meetings. Jose Luis Mendilibar is the opposing coach with the most defeats against Simeone (13 in 17 games), but facing Atleti has not been fun for Osasuna boss Jagoba Arrasate (seven defeats out of seven) or Villarreal's Unai Emery, who has never beaten Cholo in 15 meetings.

And while he has only managed nine wins in 35 derbies with Real Madrid, that's only one fewer than Atleti enjoyed in the most recent 66 meetings prior to his appointment. When they won the 2013 Copa del Rey final, Atleti ended a run of 25 consecutive games against Los Blancos without a victory, which was the longest such streak for either side in the history of the rivalry.

Loyalty

Of the 121 players to make at least one appearance under Simeone, Koke has played the most games (487) and enjoyed the most wins (293). Defender Joao Miranda boasts the record for the most appearances that all came as a starter (157), while Angel Correa has been the most frequently used substitute (133 times) and the player subbed off the most by Simeone (129 times).

There are 61 players to have scored a goal under Simeone, and 15 to hit 20 or more. The top scorer for Simeone's Atletico is Antoine Griezmann with 141, the fourth-most in Atleti history. Koke has the most assists with 96, at least 46 more than any other player. However, the apparent bit-part specialist Correa, who set up Griezmann to score in the Copa this week, is the only man to reach at least 50 goals and 50 assists in all competitions under Simeone.

Glory

Simeone's first trophy came 123 days after his first game: a 3-0 win over Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final, a result that, at the time, equalled their biggest win in a European showpiece. It preceded a 4-1 UEFA Super Cup triumph over Chelsea, the biggest victory in a single-game final in the history of that competition.

The team of 2013-14 lost some big names in the subsequent transfer window, notably Costa and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea (the latter having been on loan from Stamford Bridge). In the following March, stand-in goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya went off injured after 23 minutes of a Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen. His replacement, Jan Oblak, went on to do quite well: in 2015-16, Atleti kept a club-best 24 clean sheets and equalled the record for the fewest goals conceded in a single LaLiga season, alongside Deportivo in 1993-94. Oblak has now played the most games of any goalkeeper in Atleti history (329).

In 2016, Atleti reached their third European Cup/Champions League final by eliminating Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the last four on away goals following a 2-2 aggregate draw. Having won the home leg 1-0 thanks to Saul Niguez, they got a valuable equaliser through Griezmann at the Allianz Arena as they just about survived a siege: Bayern attempted 33 shots, the most of any opposing side against Atleti in the Simeone era.

While the final again ended in disappointment against Madrid, 2016 did at least see Atleti claim a slice of derby history: they became the first team ever in LaLiga to beat Los Blancos away from home in three consecutive games, all of which, from 2013 onwards, finished 1-0. Two years later, they had more joy on the European stage, Griezmann scoring twice in a 3-0 victory over Marseille as Simeone became just the second coach to win the modern Europa League more than once. That game was also Gabi's 417th and final appearance for the club. He signed off with a goal.

Just before the pandemic wrought havoc on the sporting calendar, Simeone enjoyed one of his most famous comebacks in March 2020 as Atleti stunned Liverpool to win 3-2 at Anfield and progress from the Champions League last 16. Marcos Llorente was the hero, scoring twice and assisting another in a substitute cameo that heralded a change to a more attacking role in the side, but Oblak's contribution should not be forgotten: he made nine saves, a number he only ever managed twice previously (against Celta Vigo in October 2017 and Bayern in that Champions League clash).

Then, last year, came league title number two and trophy number eight for Cholo. Atleti became the first LaLiga champions this century to win their final two games of the season after falling behind in each (against Osasuna and Real Valladolid). Luis Suarez, discarded by Barca the year before, scored 21 goals to propel them to glory. In fact, Atleti scored 67 times that season from just 53 expected goals. Talk about the spirit of Cholismo.

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