Football

Home truths hurt for ailing Atletico

Twice Champions League finalists in the past four seasons, Atletico Madrid are staring an embarrassing and financially damaging Champions League exit in the face unless they beat an in-form Roma tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

Even victory over the Group C leaders and away to Chelsea in two weeks may not be enough to save Atletico unless Azerbaijani Champions League debutants Qarabag can also do them a favour by taking points off either Chelsea or Roma in their final two games.

                  GROUP C
ATLETICO MADRID AS ROMA

In Diego Simeone's glorious reign as boss, only Real Madrid have been capable of eliminating Atletico from the Champions League previously.

They have twice dumped out Barcelona and beat Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich en route to last year's final.

So, what has gone wrong for Simeone's men this season?

Among the reasons is a goal-shy Antoine Griezmann.

Simeone remains steadfast in his words in support for star forward Griezmann more than in his actions, after substituting the French international in each of Atletico's last two games.

Griezmann has angered some Atletico fans by publicly flirting with a move away before agreeing to stay and signing an improved contract when the club's appeal against a transfer ban was rejected in June.

However, a barren spell in his last eight games and just three all season has meant there has been little reconciliation with a set of supporters that demand commitment above all else.

Simeone insisted he was with Griezmann "to the death" as long as he "remains in his family" after another blank in Saturday's 0-0 draw at home to bitter rivals Real.

Yet a divorce between player and club at the end of the season now seems inevitable.

Also, it appears that Atletico are still settling in at their new home - the Wanda Metropolitano.

Their European success was built at the fortress Vicente Calderon where they won 18, drew four and lost only one of 23 Champions League games under Simeone.

They are yet to replicate the winning feeling in the Champions League at their new 68,000-capacity stadium after two attempts: A late defeat by Chelsea and an even more damaging draw when Qarabag visited three weeks ago.

After opening the 310-million-euro (S$492.7m) stadium with victories over Malaga and Sevilla, Atletico are winless in their last five games at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Players have clearly struggled to adapt to their remote new home, nearly 20km northeast of the Calderon.

For the sake of their fans, Atletico must get their act together, sooner rather than later. - AFP

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