Atlético’s crossroads, between the anxiety of the League and the euphoria of the Champions League | Soccer | Sports

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With the budgets in hand, the reflection they make in the Atlético de Madrid offices is that third place in the League is what logically corresponds to them. A place that gives the right to participate in the Champions League, with what this competition represents as a source of income and as an amplifier of the sporting prestige of the entity. Always under these economic parameters, being second already means having a remarkable season. Becoming champion, as in 2014 or 2020 under the direction of Diego Pablo Simeone, is a feat, something extraordinary that has overstated the figure of the coach and the club.

“Finishing the championship in fourth position, which also gives access to the Champions League, means that a team that, at most, will have half the budget of us, has surpassed us and has slipped past us,” they slip into the offices. Finishing in fifth place is an economic and sporting fiasco of such caliber that Simeone’s contract maintains a clause by which he can be unilaterally terminated by the club without the need to pay him in full the emoluments he still has to receive. Right now that scenario is not contemplated. Simeone has the support of the club, the hard core of the locker room and the fans.

Alarms go off at Atlético every time the team sees its qualification for the Champions League in jeopardy. Sunday’s defeat against Barcelona has reduced Simeone and his players to that dangerous fifth place that does not give access to the great European competition. With nine days left, Athletic leads the colchoneros by one point and the restlessness and anxiety have replaced and reduced the euphoria that had set in after accounting for the intimidating Inter Milan in the round of 16 of the Champions League.

Atlético now breathes between the alert and anguish of the fifth place it occupies in the League and the hope generated by staying alive in the European Cup. Once we reach the quarterfinals, it is impossible not to cling to the possibility of reaching the great European title. After what happened with Inter, the locker room has once again believed that the team can compete with anyone in a tie, as they also demonstrated in the Cup against Real Madrid. At the same time, the weakness shown away from home in the league championship weighs heavily on the coaching staff and the squad.

“The reality right now is that we are out. We have to be aware of what we are at stake, what each of us is at stake. We want to be in the Champions League to play games like the one the other day against Inter. We have to tighten our asses and take care of the situation, because we want to be among the top four,” captain Koke warned after the defeat against Barcelona. “Beyond concern is being alert about the situation we are in and putting pressure on everyone to achieve the club’s goal and play in the Champions League next season,” said the red and white captain.

“We all have to improve,” Simeone insisted first before the Dazn microphones and then in the press room. He did not directly answer whether that also included the club’s transfer policy, but he again reiterated “we have to improve.” In the background lies the belief of the Argentine coach that the squad needs a renovation, mainly in defense. This season it cannot be blamed on Simeone that the team has stagnated in the league championship due to excess conservatism. He has remained faithful to the proposal of trying to come out playing with the ball from behind and putting pressure on rivals in the opposite field whenever possible. The issue is whether they have players at the back to sustain that way of playing. The defenders are more exposed to individual duels with this script than with the more conservative script. Only Witsel has maintained a notable level all season. Simeone has conveyed the feeling that he is missing something and he has done so at a time when the team has dropped to fifth place. When he was eliminated in the semifinals of the Cup against Athletic, he took great care to announce that what was left was the Champions League “and finishing in the top four, which is what matters to the club.”

Atlético will have to face the quarterfinals against Dortmund with the added pressure of righting itself in the league championship to account for Athletic or Girona, its most direct rivals for that coveted place in the Champions League. He will receive both teams at the Metropolitano. Villareal and Alavés will be the rivals that he will have to visit in the middle of the tie with the German team. All condensed between April 1 and April 27.

In these almost four weeks it can be clarified whether, for the first time with Simeone in charge, Atlético does not qualify for the Champions League via the league championship or if it has managed, once again, to meet the club’s minimum objective.

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