Diego Simeone was in awe of the way the Atletico Madrid supporters welcomed the arrival of Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday and felt it proved key to their victory.

Supporters lined the streets outside the stadium, lit flares and chanted at great volume as the European and world champions' bus arrived for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie.

Atleti had won just once in seven matches in all competitions heading into the game but Simeone's side upset the odds, scoring early through Saul Niguez and holding on for a 1-0 lead to take to Anfield.

"We started winning on the roundabout next to the stadium," Simeone told Movistar. "In eight years, I've never seen a reception like that."

He added in his press conference: "[The atmosphere] was exciting, it makes you want to play. The team responded with great effort, as they did in Valencia.

"It was not [the best night] because we didn't get a title, but there are nights you don't forget and this was one of them.

"The best team in the world comes after a lot of wins and you beat them."

Simeone had talked up the Wanda atmosphere prior to the match as he recognised the need to get a result before travelling to Anfield, where Liverpool have not lost in any competition since September 2018.

Anticipating a similar mood on Merseyside, the Atleti boss expects a tricky encounter.

"We're going to play with a lot of humility, because they are accustomed to playing massive games in their stadium," he said.

Over the past nine years or so under Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid had become that team "no one wants to play" in a knockout clash.

Their resilience, work ethic and downright dirtiness made them arguably the toughest team to play against in Europe – not because of any particular brilliance, but because they were the embodiment of their coach on the pitch.

That aura has somewhat diminished over the past 18 months or so, and there's no getting away from the fact this has been a testing season for Atletico and Simeone, with few giving them a chance against European champions Liverpool in the Champions League last 16.

After finally getting past the Antoine Griezmann saga in pre-season, there had been a feeling Atletico could hit the reset button and begin a process of reinvention following signs of stagnation.

They've done anything but. While they remain shrewd defensively, in attack Atletico are as toothless as they have ever been under Simeone, having only scored more than one other side in LaLiga's top 10.

An anxiousness seems to have engulfed Atletico at times this term, their new-look team appearing uneasy with the pressure that accompanies their established status as favourites in almost any match.

But on Tuesday they were transformed. For a night, the real Atletico were back, and they beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Their start was as good as anything Atletico have produced all season. Whether they were spurred on by the raucous atmosphere inside the Wanda or some feisty pre-match words from Simeone, it's unclear.

However, Atletico were sharper than the European champions everywhere, snapping into tackles, getting the ball forward quickly and directly, and their intensity off the ball was like the classic Atleti sides of the previous decade.

Atletico used to be the ultimate underdog, their tirelessness, tenacity and voracious nature mirroring the ideals and mannerisms of Simeone, who prowled the touchline throughout. They were never afraid of the big occasion, and all that came flooding back even when Liverpool were on the front foot.

A fortuitous touch off Fabinho allowed Saul Niguez to put Atletico in front after just four minutes.

An early goal from a corner, allowing them to absorb pressure and play on the counter or wait for errors – it was about as quintessential Atletico as it gets.

This situation should've seen them get a second goal in the 26th minute, as Virgil van Dijk's woeful defensive header was pounced on by Alvaro Morata, but after cutting inside Fabinho he could only shoot straight at Alisson from close range.

Liverpool were short of ideas in response, their first shot coming in the 29th minute – a rather hopeless long-range effort from the right foot of Andy Robertson, and Fabinho followed suit with a similarly harmless attempt soon after.

A Mohamed Salah shot that was crucially blocked by Felipe was the best the Reds could muster in the first half, and they fared little better after the interval and ended without a single shot on target, with Atleti's back four and hard-working front six doing a commendable job of limiting space for Liverpool to exploit.

"The people of Atletico always wanted a competitive team, a team that was strong in defence, a team that would play on the counter-attack and be a nuisance for the super-powerful sides," Simeone once wrote in the Coaches' Voice. They certainly delivered on that against Liverpool, with Atletico's coach spending virtually the entire match on his feet, playing the role of chief cheerleader.

Another opportunity fell to Morata on the break deep into the second half, but the much-maligned striker lost his footing at the crucial moment and he was withdrawn soon after.

And therein lies Atletico's biggest problem – with just seven goals, Morata is their most prolific scorer in LaLiga this season and there's every chance Liverpool will make him pay for wasting his two glorious opportunities when they resume hostilities at Anfield.

But on a night that Atletico once again reminded Europe of their status as masters of the mundane, Morata shouldn't be the focus.

No, at a time when many have suggested change is needed at the Wanda Metropolitano, Simeone showed evidence his dynasty's destructive powers are still capable of upsetting the elite.

Atletico Madrid appear clear underdogs as they welcome European and world champions Liverpool to the Wanda Metropolitano this week.

Liverpool have reached consecutive Champions League finals, winning the decider at Atleti's home last season, and are on course for a stunning record-breaking first Premier League triumph.

Diego Simeone's Atleti have similarly been counted among Europe's elite in years past, winning LaLiga in 2013-14 as they lost the Champions League final, a continental feat that was repeated two years later.

But the Spanish side are facing a battle just to finish in the top four in their domestic league this season.

They face Liverpool in the Champions League last 16, hosting the first leg on Tuesday, and we use Opta data to assess just where they have fallen away ahead of this mammoth task.

 

Steadily slowing since 2014

Simeone has long had a reputation for setting up his side to stifle the best in Spain and across Europe, but in 2013-14 – the greatest season in their modern history – Atleti packed a punch in attack.

The LaLiga champions scored 116 goals in their 61 matches in all competitions – 1.9 per game.

As they returned to the Champions League final in 2015-16, Atleti netted 89 times in 57 matches (1.6 per game), while they average just 1.1 per game this term.

Diego Costa alone scored 35 in 2013-14, and Atleti clearly lack a similarly prolific marksman right now, but their style of play in attack has also changed considerably.

Atleti still have a similar portion of possession – 46.8 per cent in 2013-14 to 47.5 per cent this campaign – yet they were previously far more effective at launching attacks from their low block.

A total of 108 fast breaks across their 61 matches in their best season works out at 1.8 per game. That was down to 0.4 fast breaks per game in 2015-16, and 0.5 per game in 2019-20.

Atleti have simply become far slower and therefore easier to defend against.

 

Alvaro Morata no marksman

Atleti's issues would still not be quite so grave if they were taking chances with the same regularity as previously, but a study of Expected Goals (xG) provides cause for concern.

Costa could have been expected to score 31.85 times across the 2013-14 season but instead beat that xG figure with his tally of 35.

The ability of Simeone's side to compete again two years later was largely due to the talents of Antoine Griezmann, meanwhile, signed after the LaLiga title success.

The France striker outperformed his xG of 18.84 by some distance with a total of 24 goals in all competitions, taking several chances he would not have been expected to score from.

This season, Alvaro Morata is Atleti's top scorer with just eight. Worryingly, he would have been expected to score 12.85 times already.

Joao Felix (three goals, 5.87 xG), Costa (two goals, 2.92 xG) and Vitolo (no goals, 1.62 xG) have all toiled in the final third, too, explaining Atleti's poor goals return.

 

Defensive standards slipping

And Atleti's problems are not just at one end of the field. Jan Oblak remains one of Europe's finest goalkeepers, but even he cannot match previous standards behind a much-changed defence.

The Slovenia star was outstanding in 2015-16, conceding just 26 times across 51 matches, keeping 32 clean sheets and saving 82.67 per cent of shots faced on target.

This term, Oblak has already let in 22 goals in just 31 games, with his save percentage 76.84

Where Atleti could have expected to concede 45.31 goals four seasons ago and allowed just 31, the margins have slimmed considerably: 27.5 xG conceded versus 24 conceded in 2019-20.

Just as Atleti have not effectively replaced Griezmann in attack, they look to be feeling the losses of Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez and Filipe Luis in defence, with Oblak unable to stem the tide.

Liverpool's all-star attack can now fancy their chances against a previously stingy back line.

Diego Simeone says Atletico Madrid are optimistic heading into their Champions League clash with Liverpool, where Diego Costa is in line for a return.

Atleti are enduring a tough campaign and have a battle on their hands in LaLiga to secure qualification for next season's elite European club competition.

Simeone's side should be boosted by Costa's first appearance since November following neck surgery, though.

The former Chelsea striker is in Atleti's 19-man squad to play Liverpool in the first leg in Madrid, although neither Kieran Trippier nor Joao Felix are fit.

Simeone told a pre-match news conference on Monday: "[Costa] is improving, growing, training enthusiastically.

"He is among the 19 players in the squad and has the opportunity tomorrow to play the game."

Atleti have won just one of their past seven games in all competitions, losing the Supercopa de Espana final and crashing out of the Copa del Rey to minnows Cultural Leonesa in that time.

But Simeone insists the mood in the camp is positive ahead of a meeting with the European and world champions.

"I do not see pessimism. I see optimism, emotion," he said. "There is going to be a stadium ready to burst.

"The players really want the match to come, and I see what I like best, which is optimism."

Indeed, Simeone hopes the Wanda Metropolitano can provide the same inspiration for Atleti as Anfield so often does for Liverpool.

"They have a vibrant stadium that will make us suffer when we go there," he said. "But tomorrow, the same thing will happen at the Wanda, and I trust my players a lot."

Jurgen Klopp is expecting a stern test from Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday and does not believe their 2019-20 season has been as bad as suggested.

Atleti have been contenders for European football's top club prize in seasons past but come into this week's clash with Klopp's Liverpool as underdogs.

Diego Simeone's men are fourth in LaLiga, battling to qualify for the Champions League again next season, and are expected to struggle against runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Klopp is not so sure, though, suggesting a transitional season at the Wanda Metropolitano following the departures of Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez has been solid enough.

"Playing Atletico is one of the most difficult things in the life of a football player," the Liverpool manager told a pre-match news conference on Monday.

"They are really well organised, a result machine, squeezing results out of each game if possible.

"Yes, people tell me this year is not exactly like that, but it's a transition period – that's normal. They're still fighting with all they have. You don't get a lot of chances. It's really difficult.

"What they played so far in the season was not as bad as people say and has nothing to do with what happens tomorrow, obviously.

"The team that will play better tomorrow and the next game, who fights more, who wants more, will go into the next round – not the team who plays the better Premier League or LaLiga season. It's as easy as that.

"But we are here, and nobody doubts that we are pretty ambitious. We will give it a proper try."

Klopp is not interested in suggestions Atleti play an unattractive style, pointing out it is "successful" and therefore appeals to him.

"I have nothing to say to these people, to be honest," he said. "Attractive football is what is successful. For me, it's attractive.

"It's very intense. It's speed, it's aggressive, it's a clear plan, it's a clear philosophy.

"I know we are in Spain, the country of tiki-taka – maybe people say it because of that – but I am from Germany. I admire things like that. For me, I don't have that discussion."

Klopp expects this intensity to cause Liverpool problems if they slip below their high standards.

"If there's a team where you have to be at your absolute best in all departments, it's Atletico," he said. "There are no presents tomorrow, absolutely no presents.

"If you work hard, as hard as possible, then you have a chance. If you don't do that, you don't even have a chance. That's it."

This attitude extends to Simeone on the touchline, with Klopp adding: "People say I'm emotional at the sideline. If I'm on level four, I would say Diego's on level 12.

"It's like I'm the kindergarten cop against him. It's really impressive. It's over all these years. Eight years, really long, having still this emotional level, wow.

"His teams are always world-class organised. That makes him one of the best."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke of his respect for Diego Simeone ahead of a trip to the Wanda Metropolitano, saying he had a similar story to the Atletico Madrid head coach.

The Premier League leaders visit Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.

Liverpool return to the scene of their victory in last year's final, and they are preparing to face an Atletico side that are struggling.

But Klopp remains wary of Simeone and Atletico, who have just one win from their past seven games in all competitions.

"Their goal difference [in LaLiga] is they have scored only 25 which is not too many, but have conceded only 17, which is low," he told UK newspapers.

"They have had massive injury problems in recent weeks, a lot of strikers missing. But [Alvaro] Morata was on the bench [against Valencia on Friday], I've heard [Diego] Costa is back in training and Joao Felix is available I'm pretty sure.

"If somebody can play for a result, it's Atletico. Mr Simeone, who I respect a lot, he tries everything.

"We have a similar story a little bit. We tried a lot and didn't win, but we still tried. I like that. He is so competitive – wow! Actually, we have a good relationship but I'm pretty sure he will forget that on the touchline because he is so animated."

While facing Atletico away shapes as being tricky, the Wanda Metropolitano will bring back happy memories for Liverpool after their win over Tottenham in last year's final.

But Klopp said his side – who are 25 points clear atop the Premier League – were focused on their task.

"We know that it's just a stadium, but it's a positive emotion that we have when we think about that stadium," he said.

"It was one of our greatest nights and I'm pretty sure that when the boys will go in they will see it.

"But we are not going there for a pilgrimage. For sure not. We have had enough time to let these things settle."

Marcos Llorente believes Atletico Madrid can take confidence from their 2-2 draw at Valencia into Tuesday's Champions League clash with Liverpool.

Atletico led twice at the Mestalla on Friday before being held to a draw, which means they have won just one of their past seven games.

But Llorente, who scored his first goal for the club, said it was a result that could give Atletico a boost ahead of hosting Liverpool in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

"Every player likes scoring goals. I'm happy to have done so and to make the most of the chances the coach gives me," he said, via the club's website.

"Valencia are a great team and this match gives us confidence ahead of Tuesday's very important clash."

Atletico look set to battle for a top-four finish in LaLiga, sitting two points adrift of third-placed Getafe and just one ahead of Sevilla.

Diego Simeone, who is under pressure as coach, was satisfied with his side's performance despite the draw.

"Both teams had many chances to score. We hurt them a lot on the break in the first half, whereas they created problems for us in the second," he said.

"It was a tough game against a team that haven't lost at their stadium. This is how we have to compete, because this is the way forward."

Alvaro Morata is fit to feature in Atletico Madrid's LaLiga meeting with Valencia on Friday, Diego Simeone has confirmed.

An unspecified muscle injury in Morata's right leg forced him off early in the second half of the 1-0 defeat to his former club Real Madrid on February 1.

With Diego Costa and Joao Felix already out, Simeone had to start Saturday's 1-0 victory over Granada with Angel Correa and Vitolo in attack.

Despite confirming Morata will form part of his team for Atletico's trip to face Valencia at Mestalla on Friday - "Yes, he will be in the game tomorrow" - Simeone was unwilling to respond substantially to a follow-up question.

That concerned whether the 27-year-old Morata and fellow former Chelsea striker Diego Costa will be available for the first leg of Atletico's Champions League last-16 tie with Liverpool next Tuesday.

"I'm not looking at Tuesday's game [against Liverpool], all our energy and thoughts are focused on Valencia. After that, we'll look to our next match," said Simeone.

Atletico sit fourth in LaLiga, two points ahead of Valencia, and Simeone is wary of the threat posed by Albert Celades' team.

"It's a very important match because it's the one coming next," said Simeone. "Valencia at home are very strong with their fans behind them.

"They have important players and we must think about how we can hurt them in such a difficult fixture.

"We need to win, because this generates momentum and gives a positive feeling.

"Furthermore, it helps you keep improving."

Diego Simeone hailed Atletico Madrid's improved performance after they ended a five-game winless streak by beating Granada 1-0 and paid tribute to the club's supporters for instilling his players with "responsibility".

Atletico moved up to fourth place in LaLiga after Angel Correa's sixth-minute goal settled an entertaining contest at Wanda Metropolitano, where Simeone's men put a torrid run of results behind them.

The victory was the Rojiblanco's first in six games in all competitions and came courtesy of an energetic first-half performance that impressed Simeone.

"In recent league games we could not respond accordingly to what we needed to do," Simeone told Movistar.

"There was a lot of weight on this match, but the players solved it and I am very happy about it.

"The supporters' impact is extraordinary; they fill you with responsibility, with the need to get involved.

"We are working and we are improving little by little."

Simeone saw Koke deliver a fine display in behind his front two, the attacking midfielder making his first appearance since he sustained a hamstring injury in December.

Koke provided the assist for Correa's goal and linked up well with Saul Niguez throughout a game in which a recently goal-shy Atletico team attacked persistently before coming under some late pressure. 

"Yes, I am happy for him and the team," Simeone said of Koke.

"We were very agile in the first 25 minutes, we started very well, with pressure and presence in the opponents' half, but then we backed off and they began to grow.

"They [Granada] are very good, they showed it, it comes from progressing to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and they gave us a fight until the end.

"When you need to win, the minutes run slower."

Atletico Madrid's five-game winless run came to a halt as Angel Correa's early goal secured a 1-0 victory over Granada at Wanda Metropolitano.

With attacking talents Diego Costa and Joao Felix out injured, Diego Simeone started with Vitolo alongside Correa in a two-pronged attack and was rewarded when the latter scored his fourth LaLiga goal of the season after six minutes. 

Atletico went into the match having failed to score in their previous three top-flight outings but delivered a performance full of urgency and guile.

The poor form that hampered the Rojiblanco in the last month threatened to resurface as Granada rallied in the last 20 minutes of an entertaining contest but Simeone saw his charges dig in when it mattered to make sure of a sorely needed three points.

Atletico's goal drought ended when Koke, back in the team after almost two months out with a hamstring injury, played Correa into the box and the 24-year-old rifled a low shot past Aaron Escandell from 12 yards.

Vitolo dragged a shot narrowly wide from 20 yards as the hosts kept the pressure on and he had the ball in the net after 25 minutes only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.

Saul Niguez deserved a goal nine minutes into the second half when he met Correa's cross with a volley at the far post but Escandell was equal to it.

Yannick Carrasco replaced Renan Lodi and tested Escandell with a low drive from just inside the box before a spell of Granada pressure saw Ramon Azeez fire disappointingly wide when well placed. 

Having controlled the game for over an hour the home side's grip faltered and Jan Oblak had to be alert to save Roberto Soldado's close-range volley, the Atletico goalkeeper getting down smartly to parry it away.

Carrasco won a free-kick on the edge of the box seven minutes from time but Saul curled his shot just wide of the target as Atletico failed to add gloss to a satisfying result.

 

What does it mean? Huge relief for Simeone

A run of three winless LaLiga matches can be reframed as four wins in seven and Atletico are up to fourth in the table, three points behind third-placed Getafe.

Better call Saul

There were strong performances from Thomas Partey and Koke in the Atletico midfield but Saul was notably involved in most of their best play and his quick thinking at a throw-in started the move that led to the winner.

Big miss from Azeez

Granada were never going to get many opportunities on goal in this game and when they did they were let down by Azeez, who snatched at his shot when a cool head was required.

What's next?

Granada are in action on Wednesday as they take on Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey ahead of Atletico's difficult trip to Valencia in LaLiga on Friday.

Diego Simeone has challenged Atletico Madrid to show they are "alive" when they resume LaLiga duties against Granada on Saturday.

A miserable run of results, not helped by a number of key injuries, has left Atleti's season in danger of derailing a little over a month into the new year.

Five games without a win, including a penalty shoot-out defeat to Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final and a shock 2-1 Copa del Rey loss to Cultural Leonesa, has left Simeone's side with only LaLiga and the Champions League as potential trophies.

They are far from favourites for success in either competition, given they sit 13 points off leaders Madrid in the top flight and must face holders Liverpool in the last 16 in Europe.

Simeone, who now considers every remaining match to be a final, wants his players to show their mettle over what could be a decisive few weeks of their season.

"We have all finals," he told reporters on Friday. "We have a challenge and an important responsibility. We are going to compete with very good teams.

"We don't go beyond taking things game by game – we've always believed in that. I expect a full stadium, understanding the situation of the team, and the team understanding the situation of the championship. That's the most important thing."

When asked about Madrid and Barcelona's Copa exits this week, he added: "I'm very respectful of every team and I don't give an opinion on situations that don't involve us. I just think about improving and getting out of this dynamic, which isn't so good. We have to show that we are alive."

The good news for Atleti is that striker Diego Costa and midfielder Koke are close to returning.

A back problem has kept Costa sidelined since November, while Koke has only played once since December 14 due to hamstring issues.

Simeone hopes the comeback of a proven goalscorer and a creative midfielder can give his attack the lift they need.

"He's coming back. We'll see if he can play from the start," he said of Koke.

"Technically, he's a different footballer, he sees more than the others and we have more opportunities to create chances when he is on the pitch.

"Diego Costa has joined in with training this week. He's looking forward to coming back and the doctors will determine his all-clear when it's appropriate.

"It's important for the group [to have him back] and when he returns, we'll have a player who has always given us a lot."

Zinedine Zidane accepted responsibility for Real Madrid's sluggish display in the first half of their derby victory over Atletico Madrid.

Karim Benzema's goal early in the second half secured a 1-0 win for Los Blancos at Santiago Bernabeu, extending Madrid's lead over second-placed Barcelona to six points.

However, Madrid were certainly second best before the break and were fortunate not to have gone behind, with Vitolo going close and Angel Correa hitting the woodwork.

Zidane made two changes at the break, introducing Vinicius Jr - who played a key part in Benzema's winner - and Lucas Vazquez, with Federico Valverde, who had started out wide, moving inside.

"I was not happy with what I saw on the pitch in the first half. But it was not the players' fault, it was my responsibility," Zidane told a news conference.

"So I changed Isco and Toni [Kroos], but it could have been another two. A change was needed.

"Five in midfield has worked before. But not today, we found it hard to get into the game, were not good with the ball. But in the end when things are not working, you must change it, I am here for that too.

"We began the second half in a different way, opening up the pitch, pressuring up high. We were better in everything, we deserved to win and take the three points. We cannot always play really well from the first minute."

Madrid are clear in LaLiga and also into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, while they face Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, though, would not be drawn on any talk of a potential domestic and European treble.

"No. We are just happy to have won a difficult game today," ZIdane said. "We have many difficult games left, in the Copa, LaLiga and Champions League. We've won nothing yet, just the Supercopa, and the path is very long."

Atleti's defeat means they have now lost three of their last four matches in all competitions and are 13 points behind their city rivals in LaLiga.

"We are worried by the situation, for sure," Diego Simeone told a news conference.

"We know we need to work hard to turn things around. We will be getting back players soon, and need to keep competing in the league and Champions League."

Felipe dismissed the suggestion Atletico Madrid's players have any doubts about Diego Simeone after their derby defeat to Real Madrid left them 13 points behind LaLiga's leading side.

Karim Benzema's goal 10 minutes into the second half - his first at the Santiago Bernabeu in a Madrid derby - condemned Atleti to a third defeat in four matches in all competitions.

Simeone's side had their chances before the break, with Vitolo going close and Angel Correa hitting the post, though the visitors hardly threatened after going behind.

But defender Felipe insists the squad are fully united under Simeone, despite a dismal start to 2020 which has seen them fall well off the pace and drop out of the Copa del Rey.

"No, we're all united, all together in this," Felipe told a pitchside reporter.

"We do have things to correct, do have things to improve but we will do it. We'll do it game by game, little by little but count on us, we know that today we suffered but we are united and we worked hard.

"We know we've got things to change, winning is everything to Atleti. We've got to correct our errors as quickly as possible."

Zinedine Zidane made two changes at half-time, bringing on Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior - who played a crucial part in Madrid's winner - and Felipe acknowledged the substitutions caught Atleti off guard.

"Yes, it was an aggressive change," he said. "It pushed us back onto our heels a bit. We knew how to work our way and stay in the game. Now we have to correct our position in the league quickly."

Vinicius, meanwhile, is hoping to grasp any opportunity he is given as he bids to become a regular starter for Madrid.

"Lucas Vazquez and I came on, changed the rhythm of the game first and foremost," Vinicius said.

"Zidane asked us to keep doing what we were doing and to do everything to go out and win. He's everything. He told us what we had to do and we did well.

"We've got such great players here. All I have to do, if I get a chance, is to win games like I did today."

After eight years, seven trophies, two Champions League finals and one shiny new stadium, the time has come for change at Atletico Madrid.

Saturday's 1-0 derby defeat to Real Madrid was only their fourth loss in LaLiga this season, but it leaves them 13 points behind the leaders and with no sign of that gap closing between now and May.

Madrid needed 56 minutes to break the deadlock through Karim Benzema, which is nothing new for Atleti – they remain redoubtable in defence, with only Los Blancos conceding fewer league goals this season – but their listlessness in attack is reaching crisis point.

Atleti have scored 22 goals in LaLiga, as many as fourth-bottom Real Mallorca. They have failed to score in four of their past five matches in all competitions, the exception being Angel Correa's goal in a truly disheartening Copa del Rey defeat to Cultural Leonesa. Most worrying of all is the fact they have won six times since October 29.

The typical ferocity with which they have played under Simeone since December 2011 is now seemingly exclusive to the head coach himself, who was booked in the first half at the Santiago Bernabeu after one too many furious marches from his technical area.

In short, Atleti are bereft of confidence, insipid going forward and with little obvious idea how to arrest their poor form. They are fifth in LaLiga, out of the Copa, beaten on penalties in the Supercopa de Espana final by their city rivals and with the daunting task of Liverpool to come in the Champions League. They are falling alarmingly short of expectations, especially given a pre-season investment of nearly €244million.

Simeone has not been helped by injuries. Joao Felix, the €126m man who devastated Madrid in the 7-3 International Champions Cup win in August, sat out Saturday's defeat due to a muscle injury, although his recent form means he would have been fortunate to start anyway. Diego Costa, who scored four against Madrid in that resounding pre-season success, has not started a league match in three months. Alvaro Morata, their one fit centre-forward, went off at half-time with an apparent muscular problem.

But excuses are running out for Simeone. The man who has worked miracles at times in turning Atleti from second-class citizens in Spain's capital to persistent LaLiga and Champions League contenders looks like his magic has worn off. The feel around the Wanda Metropolitano, the sparkling Atletico venue designed to reflect their modern prowess on the pitch, is much the same as the atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Mauricio Pochettino's final months in charge: how will anything change unless there's a new man in the dugout?

Atleti did at least start positively against Madrid and created the better chances in the first half. Angel Correa clipped the outside of the post and Vitolo brought a smart save from Thibaut Courtois from inside the box. That, though, was their only shot on target.

At half-time, Zinedine Zidane abandoned his plan to midfielder Atletico to death, bringing on Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior. One timely pass from the Brazilian allowed Ferland Mendy to set up Benzema for the winner 56 minutes in.

Atleti's best attempt at a comeback was a solitary wayward shot from Thomas Partey with 20 minutes left – irrefutable evidence of the team's stagnation under Simeone. "Stay, Cholo!" came the ironic taunt from the home fans. How much longer will the Atleti faithful sing the same thing and mean it?

His legacy at the club is secure, but his future, and that of Atleti, is weakened with every passing miserable 90 minutes. A parting of the ways, now or before next season at least, might be best for all concerned.

Real Madrid moved six points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga as Karim Benzema's goal proved enough to claim a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.

Both previous derbies between the sides this season - one in LaLiga and one in the Supercopa de Espana final - had finished 0-0 but Saturday's encounter finally bucked the trend.

Having held out somewhat in the first half, Madrid, who were buoyed by a double change from Zinedine Zidane at half-time, broke the deadlock through Benzema's first home goal against Atleti.

Substitute Vinicius Junior went close to capping a fine performance with a goal late on, but Madrid's failure to add another did not prove costly as they ended Atleti's six-match unbeaten run at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Sergio Ramos scored the winning penalty in Los Blancos' shootout victory in the Supercopa final last month and Madrid's captain twice went close to opening the scoring in the first 10 minutes, but sliced over on both occasions.

Ramos had some defending to do in the 18th minute, reacting sharply to clear Madrid's lines after Thibaut Courtois had kept out Vitolo's strike.

Courtois was beaten soon after, yet Angel Correa's effort clipped the upright, before Casemiro was fortunate his desperate lunge on Alvaro Morata did not lead to a penalty.

Zidane rolled the dice at the break, introducing Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez in place of Toni Kroos and Isco, moving Federico Valverde inside and the decision almost paid immediate dividends as the midfielder forced Jan Oblak into a fine save with a superb long-range effort.

However, Zidane's changes did prove decisive in the 56th minute - Vinicius drawing three Atleti defenders in before releasing Ferland Mendy, whose cross was side-footed home by Benzema.

Oblak then denied Vinicius to keep Atleti in the game, though the visitors could not make it count as their dismal start to 2020 continued.

 

What does it mean? Madrid put the pressure on Barca

Quique Setien's Barca are in action against Levante at Camp Nou on Sunday and know they must respond to prevent Madrid - who are unbeaten in 13 LaLiga matches - from ending the weekend with an increased lead at the summit.

Atleti, meanwhile, have lost three of their four matches across all competitions since the Supercopa final.

Vinicius sparks Madrid

Zidane's experiment of playing Valverde in a wide role in the first half was a failure, but the Frenchman spotted his mistake. Vinicius came on, adding width, pace and skill to Madrid's attack and, ultimately, played a pivotal role in Benzema's winner.

Simeone's time at Atleti winding down?

Atleti's defeat leaves them 13 points behind Los Blancos and their main aim now will be securing Champions League qualification. Despite plenty of money having been pumped into the squad, it seems Diego Simeone's impact finally seems to be wearing off and perhaps a change may be needed ahead of next season.

What's next?

Real Sociedad await Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday, while Atleti face Granada in their next LaLiga outing two days later.

 

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