Monday, June 25, 2018

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid: How do Atleti compare to the heroes of 2013-14?

SoccerNews in La Liga 4 Mar 2018

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On May 17, 2014, Atletico Madrid completed their unforgettable LaLiga title triumph when Diego Godin’s goal secured a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou – enough to seal glory at Barcelona’s expense.

Ahead of Sunday’s latest return visit, Diego Simeone was keen to underline just how remarkable Atleti’s achievement was in this period of dominance by the Clasico clubs.

“It’s impossible to win LaLiga if you look at the statistics,” the celebrated head coach observed.

“In the past 14 years, LaLiga was for Real Madrid or Barcelona and only Villarreal made it one season to be second. So you can say it’s impossible and we made the impossible possible because we won it one year.”

But maybe it is a little more possible than Simeone is letting on. Atletico’s stunning run of eight wins and a draw from their nine top-flight games in 2018 has coincided with Ernesto Valverde’s men showing some chinks in their considerable armour.

Emphatic wins versus Sevilla and Leganes over the past week mean Barca’s once imposing lead has been trimmed to five points. If Atletico can win for the first time in 16 attempts in this LaLiga fixture, it might just be time to dream again.

Godin, Koke and others remain from 2013-14, while one notable prodigal son has returned, but how does Opta data show Simeone’s current vintage stacking up against the men of his finest hour?

Rojiblancos on point

At this stage of their title-winning season, Atletico were coming off a pulsating 2-2 derby draw against Real Madrid – a result that left them third in the standings on 61 points from 26 games, level with Barca and three shy of their city rivals.

The gap to the top might be slightly bigger this time around but, in a coincidence to excite their fans, Atleti face Barca with 61 points from 26 games.

They actually proved easier to beat on the way to top spot, with four draws and three defeats alongside 19 victories as 2013-14 entered its final dozen matches.

Espanyol, who have shown themselves to be more than adept when it comes to giant-slaying this term, inflicted Atleti’s only defeat so far, while seven draws have served to undermine their progress.

Europe’s meanest defence gets meaner

In establishing Atletico as one of Europe’s most consistent sides of the current era, Simeone won a reputation as a defensive master leading a team who would give opponents nothing.

An often immovable rearguard was behind their LaLiga victory but they are actually harder to score against this season, conceding a paltry 11 in 26 matches, set against 21 in 2013-14.

Jan Oblak is the man between the posts now and has only had to face 68 shots on target, while predecessor Thibaut Courtois was tasked with trying to stop 82.

Griezmann and Costa put fire back into Atleti attack

In an indication Atletico have truly doubled down on Simeone’s disciplined style, goals have not been so plentiful this season.

At the 26-game mark in 2013-14 they had scored 61 times, with 45 goals this time around. Total shots (354 to 292), shots on target (145 to 119) and minutes per goal (38.36 to 52) all fall in favour of the title-winning campaign.

The caveat comes courtesy of Atletico’s exploits over the past week, with Sevilla thumped 5-2 before Leganes were dispatched 4-0 – Antoine Griezmann scoring all four to follow his hat-trick at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Diego Costa’s third goal since his return from Chelsea arrived against Sevilla. While the Spain striker was Atleti’s premier hitman in 2013-14, the early indications are he is now a perfect foil for the quicksilver Griezmann.

“Our plans is the same as always, get to the last five games and still have a chance to win it. If we do that we can make it,” Simeone said, with the calm of a man who knows, right now, everything on the field is exactly as it should be.

If they get the win at Barcelona on Sunday, Atletico might just find themselves in the midst of a perfect storm where lighting strikes twice and the impossible is possible all over again.

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