They were runners-up in the Champions League just a couple of months ago, but after a second successive draw against a newly promoted side,Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone is facing both tough questions and a tough reality.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are already four points ahead of Atleti in La Liga, who have made their worst start to a season under Simeone. After drawing with new boys Alaves last week, Antoine Griezmann warned his teammates of “a relegation fight” if they did not “wake up” before long.
“[On Griezmann’s claim], it’s a respectable opinion of his, but I think we had chances, both in the first half and second,” Simeone said after the game.
“We lacked the goal. From this, all I want is for us to work hard and be more ruthless when taking our chances. Leganes tightened up and caused us problems.
“[We lacked] making our play count and [taking our] chances. Football is about goals.
“In [these two] games, we’ve created many chances but luck went against us.
“The team are eager to show how good they are, but we’re looking anxious because we didn’t make our final moments count.
“I’m happy with our work, but to win games you have to create [goalscoring] situations and not give away goals.
“We always thought about starting the season the best we could, but the players will go with their national teams in the next few days and we’ll have little time to work.
“[Kevin] Gameiro started the game well and had a great chance in the second half.”
The problem with Atleti is that Simeone is being too cautious. On Saturday he opted to pack his midfield for the short trip to Leganes, with Koke, Augusto Fernandez, Gabi and Saul Niguez strung across the centre of the pitch.
And it really was “the centre of the pitch” too, with all four players too often seeking to turn inside, meaning the width could only come from the full-backs Juanfran and Filipe Luis, neither of whom had an especially impressive game.
The result was that Atletico had 65% of the possession, forcing eight corners and hitting 15 shots. But all of this was in front of Leganes. Simeone’s team needs to evolve and find new ways to break down stubborn opposition.
With both Diogo Jota and Oliver Torres loaned out to FC Porto—and right-back Javier Manquillo going to Sunderland—there is space in Simeone’s squad ahead of Wednesday’s transfer deadline, and it will be interesting to see whether he opts to bring in a player who can help in breaking down packed defences.
It is far more likely he’ll trust in what he’s already got available, but the opening results mean that trust needs to be backed up with more than a little urgency.
Atletico Madrid are falling behind their rivals, and although the “keep calm” message is understandable this early in the season, they can’t afford many more slip-ups.