A funerary silence accompanied Atlético’s return journey from Bilbao to Madrid. There were those who did not open their mouths until they reached the Cerro del Espino de Majadahonda parking lot to pick up their private vehicle. Íñigo Martínez’s header, which meant the defeat in the absence of three minutes, ended up establishing among the rojiblancos the mental collapse that had been brewing for weeks. If Granada does not remedy it in their visit to Barcelona on Thursday, Atlético will lose the top of the table. The decline has been slow, but steady in the game and the results.
In this time there have been moments that announced that the team lost the brilliance with which it performed in the first third of the championship. The first symptoms of the collapse began to appear after the defeat in the Valdebebas derby (2-0). Atlético appeared at the Alfredo di Stéfano with a seven-point advantage over Madrid and sporting football that started from the premise of playing in the opposite field. The superiority with which Madrid prevailed took its toll on Simeone and on the group. After that day, the figure of João Félix, who was substituted in the second half, was again questioned by the coach.
Atlético was rebuilt with a victory in Anoeta (0-2) in which Simeone stressed that the victory had occurred without the Portuguese, absent due to a feverish process and until that moment indicated together with Luis Suárez as one of the keys to the more daring and attractive version that was remembered in the Simeone era. The team has not been the same since. Between injuries and lack of confidence, João Félix either.
Atlético accumulated victories clinging to Oblak and the aim of Suárez and Marcos Llorente. He took out games at the last gasp (Elche, Alavés, Eibar) or after starting losing (Athletic and Valencia). A worrying trickle also began with goals against that revealed that defensive stability was cracking under the formula of the three centrals, which until then had been a good solution.
The image of Savic, Hermoso or Giménez playing in the opposite field helping to build the attacks has also been diluted. As Atlético began to return to the most genuine postulates of their coach, the advantage over their pursuers has been cut. The tie with Chelsea also had consequences. After the conservative approach to the first leg (0-1) with six defenders, Simeone admitted that he could have been wrong, but proudly conveyed that there was a plan and that the team had followed it with fidelity. Chelsea’s manifest superiority with the ball and without it in the second leg (2-0) was already alarming from the competitiveness shown.
The sum of a single point in the two duels with Levante, the draw with Celta (1-1) and in the Metropolitano derby (1-1) after a splendid hour of play also affected the morale of the group. The condition of leader supported the attempt of Simeone to avoid the collapse that was announced, materialized after the setback of San Mamés.
Two weeks ago, faced with the overpressure of having to finish a league that he seemed to have in hand, Miguel Ángel Gil organized a coexistence on a farm in Robledo de Chavela. The owner of the club, to reduce the tension, communicated to the squad that the club’s objective of being in the next Champions League was fulfilled. The conquest of the championship would be a magnificent addition.
The banners of the fans in training also sought moral support and the reaction of the team. The effect of the victories against Eibar and Huesca had to be endorsed in San Mamés. However, once again, the staging was not that of a team aiming to win the championship. The first ten minutes are internally indicated as the X-ray of a team that in that period, in addition to conceding a goal, was surpassed in all individual duels and in the fights for the second plays. Athletic, with hardly anything to play for now, beat Simeone’s team by legs and by ambition.
The possibility of appearing next May 8 at the Camp Nou with an advantage in the classification is about to disappear. Not even the speech that the team still depends on itself to be crowned champion with which Simeone, the captains and the leadership will try to raise the morale of the group has any signs of penetrating a team that may be the first to lose a League after waste 10 advantage points.
The most recent history does not accompany either. In the Simeone era, Atlético never won their last five league games. The large cushion accumulated with 50 points out of 57 in the first 19 games has been squandered with the sum of only 23 points out of 42 in the following 14. In those first 19 games, Atlético posted 84% wins down to just 42% afterward. The numbers are no longer champions.