Since shocking everyone by beating Real Madrid and Barcelona to win the 2013/14 season, team have lost a number of key players including Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois, Miranda, Raul Garcia and Arda Turan.
Last season a weakened Atletico finished 16 points behind La Liga winners Barca and were eliminated from the Champions League and Copa del Rey by Madrid.
But the addition of some exciting younger players, and an apparent move to play more attractive football, had led to a new-look side being talked up by pundits in Spain.
“The year after winning the championship was very difficult,” Simeone said. “It was a tough season and we managed to keep up a very high level. Now there are a group of young players, but that assures us nothing. The team has to keep growing together. One of the great things about this group is we always want more.”
Last week had also brought what looked like positive news for Atletico off the pitch, with shareholders at Tuesday’s AGM being told income was up and expenditure down.
The narrative was that a club which had debts of over €500m a few years back, including unpaid taxes of €215m, was now being much better run, in part due to new stricter financial regulations brought in by Uefa, La Liga authorities and the Spanish government.
It was, however, impossible to question this narrative. Atletico is not a ‘members club’ like Madrid or Barca, and president Enrique Cerezo and chief executive Miguel Angel Marin exercise total control. The annual accounts were approved with 3,562,060 votes in favour [99.76%] to 8,528 votes against [0.24%].
Gil Marin also refused to answer questions from concerned fans group ‘Señales de Humo’ [Smoke Signals], and Spain’s sports papers AS and Marca did not even bother sending reporters. This meant there were no details on the exact roles at the club of Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the Azerbaijan dictatorship or Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes. Questions about a Madrid city-hall investigation into the club’s long-delayed move to a new stadium at La Peineta were also quickly dismissed.
There was a similarly unsatisfactory ending to Friday’s game at Riazor, where Atletico were aiming to go top of the La Liga table.
Seven of the 14 players Simeone used in the game were aged 24 or under and, during the first-half, the team did play some attractive football as Depor sat back and defended deep. Summer signing Yannick Carrasco, just turned 22, was the best player on show.
Atletico went to the break 1-0 up with a superb volley from veteran midfielder Tiago. But they were unable to build on their lead. A howler from 20-year-old defender Jose Maria Gimenez allowed Depor’s Lucas Perez to equalise. Simeone admitted afterwards inexperience had cost his team: “Those of us in football know this can happen,” the tough Argentine said. “We did not build on our first-half, we sat back.”
Madrid beat Las Palmas 3-1 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday with Barcelona later winning 2-0 at Getafe. Atletico are now fourth, three points behind the joint-leaders, and one behind surprise package Celta Vigo.
Twenty points from their first 10 games is the lowest total during Simeone’s four seasons in charge. The ‘big two’ have suffered serious injury issues during the first few months of the season, but the new look Atletico have not been able to take advantage.