Punchless Atletico faces Champions League knockout
MADRID – Agence France-Presse
Finding itself against the ropes, Atletico Madrid has to come out swinging and finally start landing punches to keep its Champions League dreams alive when Azerbaijani champion Qarabag visits the shiny new Wanda Metropolitano on Oct. 31.
The move to the 68,000 capacity stadium, which will host next season’s Champions League final, was seen as confirmation of Atletico’s place among the European elite.
Inspired by coach Diego Simeone, Atletico has twice reached the final, as well as the semis and quarters in the Champions League over the past four seasons - only to fall to cross city rival Real Madrid on every occasion.
On top of a 310 million euro ($360 million) outlay on its new home, Atletico made a huge economic effort to make its transition from the Vicente Calderon as smooth as possible despite a FIFA ban on registering new players.
Simeone and key figures such as Antoine Griezmann, Saul Niguez and Koke were handed lucrative new contracts.
Diego Costa also rejoined the club for a reported club record 55 million euros ($64.8 million) from Chelsea, but he and Atletico’s other major recruit Vitolo can’t feature until January.
However, the gamble that Costa and Vitolo would provide the perfect boost to Atletico’s Champions League campaign come the new year could backfire spectacularly as Simeone’s men have taken a paltry two points from their opening three Group C games.
Costa’s old club Chelsea leads the way on seven points, closely followed by Roma on five.
Atletico’s problem is painstakingly obvious, it can’t score goals.
Griezmann’s penalty in 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea last month is the club’s only Champions League goal to date and it has managed just eight in its last eight La Liga games to fall eight points off the top.
“It’s the same thing as always,” Saul confessed after a 1-1 draw against third-tier Elche in the Copa del Rey.
“That lack of goals makes us anxious and we end up suffering.”