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Simeone - Suarez spat lays bare Atletico Madrid's struggles

7:00 pm AEDT 22/12/21
Diego Simeone Luis Suarez Atletico Madrid
El Cholo has seen his side lose their last three Liga games to all but end their hopes of retaining the title

It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that two personalities as ferocious and combative as Diego Simeone and Luis Suarez may occasionally fail to see eye to eye.

Far more concerning from Atletico Madrid's perspective, however, is the fact that the duo and the rest of the team are failing to fire on the pitch, which has led to the Colchoneros tumbling down the standings and perilously close to surrendering their Liga title even before the festive period.

Suarez, in particular, is feeling the heat, and it showed on Saturday when the ex-Liverpool and Barcelona hero was withdrawn by Simeone just 10 minutes into the second half of a key league fixture against Sevilla, with the scoreline locked at 1-1.

“F*cking idiot, it's always the same thing,” the forward appeared to mutter under his breath as he trudged off in Seville, visibly annoyed. If any more evidence of his frustration was needed, Suarez followed up by flinging his socks on the floor, while replacement Mathias Cunha was powerless to stop Sevilla eventually taking a priceless 2-1 victory which leaves the Andalucians, not Atletico, as the closest challengers to Real Madrid at the top.

Asked about the incident by reporters on Tuesday, Simeone was also typically brusque. “I've got nothing to say,” he fired; although he did go on to hint that the atmosphere in the dressing room was far from ideal: “We have some things to improve, like the tension... it's clearly taking its toll.”

It is somewhat ironic that a team like Atletico, famed throughout El Cholo's reign for an unbreakable team spirit which often compensated for deficits in talent elsewhere on the field, are now lacking in this area at a time when, in terms of pure ability, this squad ranks among the very best they have had at their disposal over the past decade.

Certainly, three consecutive Liga defeats have left morale at a damaging low, with Suarez one of the players who most seems to be flagging.

So important in Atleti's 2020-21 Primera Division triumph, the Uruguayan forward has been a shadow of his best this term. He has netted just eight goals in 23 games in all competitions, and in the past two months has one solitary effort to his name, in November's enthralling 3-3 draw with Valencia.

As the goals have dried up, Simeone has shown that he is prepared to pull him out of the action even when Atletico are pushing for an equaliser or winner. At 34, Suarez, of course, cannot hope to be starting and finishing every game, but he has completed the 90 minutes just once since the start of October – the motivation, perhaps, for his outburst on Saturday when he still felt he could change the course of the game.


The biggest issue for the coach is that his side cannot seem to find the way to goal without Suarez either. The likes of Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann have proven a huge disappointment this season, contributing just one and three Liga goals respectively, leaving versatile winger Angel Correa as their top league scorer after Suarez with a paltry four.

At the other end too the club's once formidable defence has lost its air of invulnerability, even more so in recent weeks with injuries to first-choice centre-back pairing Jose Maria Gimenez and Stefan Savic.

Having conceded just 25 times in the entire 2020-21 Liga season on their way to the title, Jan Oblak has already seen 20 goals escape his grasp before the halfway point of the current campaign. The Slovenian, in fact, is in uncharted territory: never before in his seven-and-a-half years at Atletico has he averaged more than a goal conceded per match.

Victory over Granada on Wednesday would at least allow Atletico to sign off 2021 on a positive note, while also affording the opportunity to finish the year inside the Champions League qualification places.

Leaders Madrid, even at this stage, look too far ahead at the summit, enjoying a lead of 14 points over their neighbours.

Once the festive period is over, however, the Colchoneros will have some big decisions to make, not least over Suarez.

He has always been a confidence striker, capable of racking up scoreless games even at his best before hitting back with a blistering run of form. There is no doubt either that Atletico pulled off a major coup in taking advantage of Barcelona's mistreatment of the veteran last season, a gambit that gifted them 21 goals and arguably sealed them the league crown.

Nevertheless, while Barca's handling of the Suarez situation was deplorable, it was built on justifiable reasoning. The forward has slowed down notably from his prime and unless he receives regular quality possession and chances inside the box he will struggle to make a telling impact.

But therein lies the dilemma: as long as the rest of his strike partners fail to make an impact, it will be Suarez to whom the club must turn to in order to pose a threat in the final third.

Atletico have the players to give the Uruguayan the chances he needs, but they need to step up sooner rather than later in order to dig him and the team in general out of its present rut – otherwise, Simeone may be facing his most underwhelming season yet after 10 years of exemplary work in the Spanish capital.