It happens to all teams who start the season off well, it is happening to Arsenal and many are expecting the same with Atletico Madrid. A midseason snafu, a fall in form, be it due to injuries, lack of depth or fatigue. Arsenal are struggling through a tough stretch and while many rang the death bell for Atletico following a Cope Del Ray loss to Real Madrid, they sit tied on point with Barcelona a top La Liga.
For many they are this season's Borussia Dortmund, the chic team nobody knows or cares about until they thump a perennial favorite or front runner. Then everyone perks up and boldly proclaims they are next big thing. Dortmund went all the way to the CL Final last season, an all German final at that, and with three teams left from Spain it could happen again in the Spanish variety, but first a trip to San Siro. A place that few teams found success in the CL.
The thing with Atletico is they are a bit of a different team, they don't seem the sort of the team that is bothered by who or where the play. They also don't seem like the sort of team that will give an opponent different looks, with Simeone's crew you get what you get, but that is not a bad thing. One of the reason's Atletico hasn't garnered the sort of praise that Borussia Dortmund received last season is they play a bit of anti-football or negative football. They defend as a unit and break only when needed, they are akin to a defensive boxer, hands up biding his time until a right hook knocks you senseless. For me this is football, but for the masses, if doesn't pass the ball all day long with no real forward motion it apparently doesn't work. This will pose a problem for Seedorf's Milan, a big problem.
The past month has been marked by the 4-2-3-1 and while the results have been earned, the tactics have been spotty. You could almost claim the 4-2-3-1 has been inconsistent, but it hasn't, it has been actually been very consistent with the same problems plaguing any of the eleven players on the pitch. Susceptible to counters, confused in the midfield and struggling to finish chances in attack. More alarming against a team like Atletico is this lack of team defending, a lack of commitment to have the first man press the ball and the rest fall in line. Gone are the days of Sacchi's defensive wall, long gone indeed, and Simeone will prey on this. If the team is setup to defend first and attack later, the result can be earned, but it will take a herculean effort and without the personnel needed it could be a tall order. The fact that Milan lacks proper wingers has shoehorned attacking midfielders into wide roles, normally this would be OK if the dual pivot was say, NDJ and Alex Song or DDR, and the four attackers pressed and kept the game in the middle of the park. This is not the case as it will prey into what Simeone wants.
With Ateltico's penchant for tackling and desire to play in the middle of the park it could create problems for the dual pivot and force players into areas where the match proves to be a bit more challenging. Milan should do everything in it's power to spread Atletico out, East to West, like Real Madrid did a few weeks ago. The problem is with who? Do you play Urby and DeScig on the Left, one at LAM and the other at LB and Abate and Taraabt on the right? Can we afford to have Balotelli drift wide and leave two CBs like Godin and Miranda push whoever is slotted into CAM around?
Normally I always have this belief that this team can overcome, but never have seen a team so well equipped to destroy exactly what Milan does than Atletico Madrid. Sad, I know, but all is not lost. This team has surprised us in the past and can surprise again. A win here would be against all conventional wisdom, a true moral and galvanizing victory, the sort of stepping stone a team like this one needs so while the tactics scream no, the fan in me will always hope for the best.