Atleti don Old Cholismo costume and grab Archetypal Win
It was in the 88th minute that Jurgen Klopp’s displays of frustration finally got him a yellow card at the Metropolitano. The German had been in the fourth official’s ear for a quite a bit of the second half, and two minutes before the end of normal time, referee Szymon Marciniak had had enough, and booked the Liverpool boss.
At the other technical area, at just about the same time, Diego Simeone was roaring the Atletico Madrid fans. Like Klopp, this was an act Cholo had been doing for quite a bit of the second half, waving his arms towards the Metropolitano faithful, cheering and kicking and screaming. For Simeone, this was his kind of night, frustrating the big guns.
Much of this season for Atletico has been about how the team are stuck in some identity limbo. Simeone’s managerial presence – which will be a decade come December – has seen Los Colcheronos move from underdogs to being part of the establishment. They’ve moved from being outsiders, El Pupas – The Jinxed – from being the butt of the jokes in Spain, to consistently rolling with the big boys.
And that seems to have been posing a problem for the past few years; do Atletico stick or twist? Do they ditch the husk of being a defensively solid side and try to be more expansive. A rise upward in the ranks, means a rise in reputation and expectations; upsetting the heavyweights stopped being enough, Atletico needed to start swatting aside the little ones as well.
So far, they haven’t quite stuck or twisted, they seem to be at a crossroads, identity-wise, the old model can’t quite work anymore, and there hardly seems to be a new model. Once Atletico try to be more expansive and hit the slightest snag, they revert again, Simeone seeming to hit ‘restore factory Old Atleti settings’. And in the past two seasons, they’ve seen members of the old guard, the ones that made the Old Atleti such an effective machine, depart. Gabi left in 2018, Diego Godin, Juanfran, and Filipe Luis all left last summer. Then a lot was spent to restructure the side on the pitch.
But while the faces of the old era have gone, a new era doesn’t want to start. Antoine Griezmann – who also left last summer – claimed to have gotten stuck at the Metropolitano, and there was a point in that; Simeone hasn’t quite evolved his ways, players like Saul and Koke seem to have not made significant improvements, and Atleti seem not small enough to play ‘Cholismo’ and yet not big enough to be front-footed and pin back the heavyweights. They’re out of the Spanish Cup, out of the title race in La Liga, and facing a fight to actually finish in the top four.
The Champions League is all they have left, and the prospect of a tie with Liverpool is never one to make one most optimistic. Their opponents had lost two games all season – one of which was with a reserve side in a League Cup quarter-final. The odds were firmly stacked against them coming into this first leg, even though they were at home.
But this is how Atletico like it. This is the kind of situation Simeone probably would have wanted. Being the underdog again. Being written off, and seeing a chance to upstage a big fish once more. And that was the case; a ferocious start saw them take the lead after four minutes, Saul sending the Wanda into a cacophony. Atletico Madrid had a lead to defend against a side that have only dropped two league points all season. This was prime Atleti.
There would be no qualms about style here, this was the chance for Atletico to be Atletico again. To spoil and frustrate, rather than create. To interrupt rather than to invent. And it was a job executed brilliantly; Liverpool were restricted to zero shots on target, on a frustrating evening that culminated in their manager getting booked.
Things could have been different. What if that effervescent start didn’t reward them with a goal? What if they had fallen behind instead? There would be questions as to whether they could create and get themselves out of that jam.
But little matter, because, as Simeone has previously pointed out, the result is God, and on this night, it felt heavenly; on this night, the stars aligned and Wanda was in full voice, Klopp describing it as something similar to what the Reds have on their own turf. There’s a second leg to come in three weeks, the prospect of Anfield means this tie is probably still in the balance. But, at least for these two games, the world will let Atletico be Atletico again, and right now, that’s all they need.
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not